No respect for whales: Supertrawlers in the Antarctic | Polarjournal
A Chinese supertrawler fishing for krill in the Southern Ocean in the presence of whales. A practice that not only represents direct competition for food for whales, penguins and seals, but can also lead to fatal ship strikes. Photo: Screenshot Sea Shepherd Global Video

The crew of the Sea Shepherd vessel “Allankay” recently documented how six supertrawlers with deployed nets sailed through a large group of hundreds of feeding whales to catch huge amounts of krill, their food source.

On January 20, 2024, Sea Shepherd conservationists once again observed and documented six krill supertrawlers plowing through a group of feeding whales northwest of Coronation Island, the largest of the South Orkney Islands. With their huge nets, the industrial fishing vessels, each the size of two Olympic swimming pools, took tons of Antarctic krill from the nutrient-rich waters and caught the whales’ food right out of their mouths. Sea Shepherd, together with the Australian Bob Brown Foundation, observed the same ruthless but completely legal actions by fishermen in the region in early 2023. The year before, scientists documented the same fishing operations in the midst of around 1,000 fin whales off Coronation Island.

On January 20, 2024, Sea Shepherd Global encountered a total of six krill supertrawlers off Coronation Island and documented their unscrupulous actions. 

There is still no regulation of this practice, which is dangerous for whales, penguins and other krill-eating sea creatures. Unlike in the case of illegal fishing, the crew of the “Allankay” therefore did not intervene in the trawlers’ operations, but documented them in order to use the material to push for legislative change.

“In the Mediterranean Sea and off the Atlantic Seaboard, speed limits have been introduced to reduce whale deaths from ship strikes by merchant vessels. It boggles the mind that here, in such a sensitive and vulnerable sea area, there is no law preventing fishing vessels from dragging their fishing nets right through megapods of whales, targeting their very food source as whales spout right in front of the bows of ships as long as a 30-story tall building laying on its side,” Bart Schulting said, captain of the “Allankay”.

After all, the documentation by Sea Shepherd and the Bob Brown Foundation in 2023 led to the fishing quotas for 2024 not being increased. Nevertheless, the trend is worrying. Although whale populations are currently growing steadily and recovering from commercial whaling, they are dependent on the existing krill stocks, which are already lower than before the whaling era. Direct competition from inadequately regulated krill fisheries, combined with climate change, could reverse this favourable trend in the worst-case scenario.

The research team, which witnessed the unscrupulous krill fishery in January 2022, highlights the increasing threat to recovering whale populations from the growing krill fishery in its study published in February 2023.

Chile and Argentina have been working for years in the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) to declare this region a marine protected area. Two CCAMLR member states, China and Russia, are adamantly opposed to this and reject the establishment of no-take zones. Further negotiations on the establishment of marine protected areas are to be held at a special CCAMLR meeting this year.

“Krill is caught for products we do not need such as to created feed for farmed salmon or pet food. There is no need to destroy the foundation of the Antarctic ecosystem. It should shock all Australians that the farmed salmon that is produced in Tasmania, is feed the very food that penguins, seals and whales rely on to survive in Antarctica,” Alistair Allen, Antarctic and Marine campaigner, said in a press release by the Bob Brown Foundation. It’s not just Australians who should be shocked – krill is being used all over the world.

Julia Hager, PolarJournal

Featured image: Screenshot Sea Shepherd Global Video

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