CCAMLR Delegates Decide on Antarctica’s Fate
Sunday, 29 Oct, 2023
The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) has announced that the krill catch quota in Antarctica will not be increased.
Earlier this year, journalists from the Associated Press joined us on board our mission to Antarctica, and it was their recently released report that we believe influenced this decision not to increase the catch quota. While this is a huge win, a catch quota of zero would be a victory.
Sea Shepherd Global will be returning to Antarctica in 2024 to continue to spotlight the reality of this destructive industry and continue the fight for whales and all other marine life who depend on this cornerstone species.
What is CCAMLR?
From October 16th to 27th, the eyes of the global conservation community have been fixed on Hobart, Australia, where the 42nd CCAMLR assembly met to decide the future of Antarctica.
CCAMLR is the international regulatory body responsible for protecting Antarctica’s precious ecosystem. It was established in 1980 in response to growing concerns over the impacts of unregulated fishing, particularly commercial krill fishing, on the Southern Ocean. During the 1970s, advances in fishing technology and an increased demand for krill and other Antarctic marine species spurred significant growth in the region's fishing activities. Scientists and environmentalists grew concerned that this uncontrolled exploitation could disrupt the delicate ecological balance and lead to the depletion of key marine wildlife species, like krill.
A key development in the Antarctic Treaty System, CCAMLR was uniquely structured to focus on an entire ecosystem rather than conserving individual species in isolation. Its creation marked a pivotal shift in resource management, emphasizing a holistic, science-based approach to conserving marine life and ensuring that all human activities in the Antarctic region, including fishing, would be conducted sustainably, thereby protecting the region's ecological integrity for future generations.
The Need to Increase Protections in Antarctica Thwarted by Lack of Consensus
However, CCAMLR hasn’t been able to keep up with the evolving threats to the Antarctic ecosystem over the past three decades, including record high temperatures, record low sea ice levels, pollution, and industrial supertrawlers.
Scientists and conservationists have been calling for the establishment of new Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). These areas, critical to preserving marine biodiversity, offer a sanctuary for various species, buffering them from over-exploitation and helping mitigate the impacts of a rapidly changing climate.
“A large number of peer-reviewed scientific papers underline the importance of Antarctic MPAs. The science that is currently available allows us to act now in all planning domains, particularly to urgently protect krill and associated species, up to top predators,” writes Guillermo Ortuño Crespo, of the IUCN.
Given the requirement for unanimous agreement among all 26 member nations and the EU, reaching a consensus within CCAMLR is difficult, particularly when member states' economic ambitions compete with critical conservation measures. The last meaningful measure was taken in 2016 with the creation of the Ross Sea MPA, but since then a handful of countries have blocked any new agreements.
"The speed of change in Antarctica is alarming, but even more alarming is CCAMLR's failure to take any action this last decade to address climate change,” wrote Andrea Kavanagh, director of Antarctic and Southern Ocean conservation work for The Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project. “It's time to break the impasse and make good on its overdue promise to create a network of MPAs in Antarctica.”
Voting on Krill Fishery Quotas
In addition to the proposals for the establishment of additional MPAs, delegates at CCAMLR 42 also voted on whether to increase krill fishery quotas for the Southern Ocean. After our return to Antarctica earlier this year to witness the krill fishery operations firsthand, Sea Shepherd Global and Australia’s Bob Brown Foundation, along with many other conservation groups and scientists, believe a complete moratorium on krill fishing is the only way to protect the region’s ecosystem.
“Krill is the foundation of the Antarctic ecosystem. Whales, penguins and seals all rely on krill to survive. There shouldn’t be massive supertrawlers catching this keystone species,” said Alistair Allan, Bob Brown Foundation Antarctic and Marine Campaigner.
Krill hold a pivotal role in the Southern Ocean ecosystem, grazing on phytoplankton and serving as the main food source for larger predators such as whales, penguins, squid and seals. Their daily vertical migrations are crucial for the ocean's nutrient and carbon circulation, as they feed on surface algae and excrete nutrients that enrich deeper waters. However, these critical creatures are under threat due to the melting of ice shelves caused by global warming, jeopardizing their breeding and feeding grounds. This urgency is compounded by recent environmental events; Antarctica’s sea-ice levels hit a record low in February 2023, followed by more record-breaking declines during the winter months.
Furthermore, the practice of industrial krill fishing is a direct threat to the region’s marine wildlife. Sea Shepherd Global’s crew documented supertrawlers plowing through a pod of whales with their nets out as they fed on krill, competing directly with the whales for food. There’s nothing ‘sustainable’ about enormous supertrawlers traveling vast distances to Antarctica, recklessly killing whales and other marine wildlife in their nets, and polluting the once pristine waters, to extract a keystone species like krill for farmed animal feed and unnecessary health supplements.
“The krill fishery is having an impact already, even at a low level of fishing,” said Andrea Kavanaugh in last week’s AP investigative feature on industrial krill fishing in Antarctica. “There would be no ecosystem [in Antarctica] without krill."
Although CCAMLR has decided not to increase krill quotas this year, Antarctica’s biodiversity is still at risk. That is why Sea Shepherd Global is returning in 2024, renewing our shared commitment to preserving our global ecological heritage.