Krill – “The true cost of sustainable fishing should include investment in research” | Polarjournal
Visible blow of pod of whales feeding on krill while a supertrawler fishes among them (Photo: Sea Shepherd Global / Flavio Gasperini).

Differences have arisen within the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), apparently from those who are keen to develop krill fishing with plans of quadrupling the current catch threshold of 155,000 tonnes around the western part of the Antarctic Peninsula. Since 2021, during negotiations, some countries have recognized the importance of protective measures for Antarctic krill management to support the Commission’s precautionary principle with respect to exploitation. Philip N. Trathan, visiting Professor at the University of Southampton and an expert in the biology, ecology and management of Southern Ocean ecosystems, published an article in Marine Policy at the end of July in which he uses his 30 years’ experience as part of the UK’s Delegation to CCAMLR to describe the current needs to improve management.

CCAMLR has 27 members and operates by consensus. A further ten States have joined the Convention, but are not members (Photo : Dan Broun).

CCAMLR requires to respect the precautionary principle and to ensure that fishing, by catching too much krill, does not unbalance the food chains to the disadvantage of penguins, seals and whales. It’s certain that we need to better monitor the impacts of fishing on this vital resource, which is also prey for many other species in the Southern Ocean. How can we do it ?

In the UK, we used to have two polar research vessels, and now we only have one that goes out to the stations and scientific camps during the summer. To make up for the lack of data on the abundance and distribution of krill in space and time, science should have a greater level of automation, using satellite tools, oceanographic tools such as gliders, or land-based deployments of aerial drones and automatic cameras. This would be less costly logistically, but of course requires investment. With automatic monitoring there is still a long way to go to be as accurate as on board a ship, but one of the key points is that automatic monitoring consumes less carbon.

The true cost of sustainable fishing should take into account investment in research, which is necessary for science and goes beyond the work of on-board observers, especially if we want this fishing to remain precautionary. In line with the polluter pays principle, it is clear that the industry must play an active role in improving research and monitoring, given the benefits it derives from the living marine resources of the Convention area.

Do collaborations exist on the field?

Understanding climate change, understanding the recovery of humpback whales, understanding the impact of fishing – these questions are too big for individual CCAMLR members to answer on their own, so we need an international coalition that produces good data and knows where to go to collect it. So it would be less effective for individual countries to act without consultation, it’s important to build international monitoring that is collaborative and diverse. Ecosystem monitoring will be an important safeguard, as the krill fishery expands.

Argentina and Chile have drawn up a proposal for a marine protected area in the Antarctic Peninsula and around the South Orkney Islands. They have used data from many member states, to develop their proposal, based on the best available science. Designation of marine protected areas (MPAs) would provide an important safeguard, as the krill fishery expands.

In the case of krill, the studies have sought to determine the biomass near the Antarctic Peninsula and around the South Shetland Islands in order to assess the quantity that could be harvested safely. However, there remains a need for monitoring data and for marine protected areas.

But if you’re fishing and at the same time trying to monitor the effects of climate change, how can you distinguish and understand their effects separately?

It’s a very difficult question. If you fish, you risk affecting the stock; climate change is also likely to affect the stock; also, the recovery of previously exploited humpback whales will also have an impact on the stock. All these different impacts means monitoring will be complex. You therefore also need climate reference areas where fishing is excluded, to help disentangle confounded drivers of change. Climate reference areas should be situated in locations where we know there probably won’t be any changes.

Scientific publications show that the distribution of krill is shifting and it has been suggested that climate change is the cause, other studies suggest that the ocean is acidifying, because there is more carbon dioxide in the water, which will have an impact on the early stages of krill development, so understanding the impact of climate change in terms of temperature and acidity on krill larvae is going to become very important.

The CCAMLR is facing increasing polarization on the issue of krill and marine protected areas. How can collaboration within CCAMLR be improved to achieve these management and protection objectives?

The first marine protected area was approved by CCAMLR in 2009, and the second in 2016, and there has been no agreement on marine protected areas since, so these discussions have been going on for a long time.

Areas that are particularly rich in biodiversity or important breeding grounds for penguins probably need to be protected. We know that the Antarctic Peninsula is one of the fastest-warming areas of the Southern Ocean.

The scientific community has agreed that climate change is happening, but we still need increased monitoring to ensure that CCAMLR continues in the right direction and keeps control of the expansion of the krill fishery in a warming world.

Collaboration in carrying out studies, greater transparency, data monitoring and an agreement on who is responsible within the scientific committee (and the Commission) should be put in place so that trust is restored within CCAMLR.

Interview by Camille Lin, PolarJournal

More information : Krill fishing is “Olympic”, i.e. each year, the quota allocated to each area is filled by the last fisherman to reach it. There are four fishing areas: around South Georgia, the Sandwich Islands, South Orkney and South Shetland. Total allowable catches are 620,000 tonnes of krill. Figures for 2021 are 371,526 tonnes of krill caught, all areas combined, around South Orkney and South Shetland. The latter archipelago is under pressure, with 10,000 tonnes overfished in 2021 by 12 vessels in the area, and a quota almost filled by 9 vessels in 2022. The countries fishing for krill are Chile (1 vessel), China (4 vessels), South Korea (3 vessels), Norway (3 vessels) and Ukraine (1 vessel), all members of CCAMLR and using midwater otter trawls.

Lien vers l’étude : Trathan, P.N., 2023. What is needed to implement a sustainable expansion of the Antarctic krill fishery in the Southern Ocean? Marine Policy 155, 105770.

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