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Bridging the Krill divide


Understanding the objectives for krill fishing and conservation in the Scotia Sea and the Antarctic Peninsula Region.

Antarctic krill are small crustaceans – a bit like shrimps (picture ‘Will and Bill the krill’ – played by Matt Damon and Brad Pitt in Happy Feet 2). They have large black eyes and a translucent pink shell,  grow to approximately 6cm in length and live for about five years.

They are incredibly abundant with female krill laying up to 10,000 eggs at a time, and a biomass far exceeding that of human beings, or indeed any other multi-cell animal species on the planet. They are vitally important as a key species in the Southern Ocean food web and an important food-source for whales, penguins, seals and fish.

Antarctic Krill © Chris Gilbert, British Antarctic SurveyAntarctic Krill © Chris Gilbert, British Antarctic Survey

Krill has been commercially fished in the Southern Ocean for over 35 years, predominantly in the Scotia Sea region and the Antarctic Peninsula, for use as feed in aquaculture or poultry farms, or for the health-food industry (krill oil). Whilst there is some uncertainty over current krill biomass (which will vary from year to year) and population trends, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) has set a total allowable catch at less than 2% of the best estimate for total krill biomass in the fished region. Find out more information on the krill fishery (PDF).

This week, we’ve been working with British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and ICED bringing together for the first time international experts from three key sectors to explore their objectives for conservation and krill fisheries in the Southern Ocean. This included many of the leading krill and Southern Ocean scientists, eight environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and members of the krill fishing industry.

The aim was to identify the objectives of each of the stakeholder groups and to jointly explore constructive ways to work towards ensuring that the existing krill fishery is sustainable, and to develop recommendations to guide CCAMLR in the development of sustainable management approaches for the krill fishery.

Krill net catch © Chris Gilbert. British Antarctic SurveyKrill net catch © Chris Gilbert. British Antarctic Survey

According to Dr Simeon Hill from BAS, “Each of these sectors is interested in sustainability. The problem is that sustainability means different things to different sectors, depending on their objectives and expectations and how they value the benefits that the ecosystem provides”.

For me, it was an immense privilege to share two days here at our Living Planet Centre with many of the world’s experts in this field. There was widespread agreement and commitment in the room to CCAMLRs conservation principles. Whilst the need to manage the existing krill fishery sustainably was strongly noted, challenges do exist in ensuring sustainability in the context of environmental variability and climate change.

Future scenarios need to be developed to forecast whether the fishery might expand or contract over the coming years. Based on the level of scientific data that exists today, the fishery should not be allowed to grow. In addition, it is clear that we could be making greater use of existing fishing vessels as a platform for relevant and focused science, and ultimately CCAMLR’s objectives, in these remote locations.

The requirement for better communication and public outreach about krill fisheries and conservation was noted, as was the significant benefits of and need to broaden stakeholder participation and engagement at CCAMLRs technical working groups (including representation by conservation NGOs and industry).

Workshop participants at the Living Planet Centre © Credit Dr Rodolfo Werner and Ms Rebecca BurdickWorkshop participants at the Living Planet Centre © Credit Dr Rodolfo Werner and Ms Rebecca Burdick

Initial discussions also dealt with how to determine whether Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s), a major priority for CCAMLR and most conservation NGOs, might be a useful tool for the management of krill fisheries. The need to harmonise MPA’s with fisheries management techniques was considered to be key in this respect.

But what struck me most was the willingness of all participants to engage in constructive and respectful dialogue. Recognising that opinions, priorities and approaches often differ across sectors, we clearly share similar objectives – continued abundance of krill to support the needs of all.

It is hoped that this workshop will set a precedent and encourage CCAMLR to adopt greater levels of cross-sector stakeholder engagement, particularly in seeking solutions to some of the challenges the Southern Ocean is now facing. We need to see more of that in the conservation world!

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