Concern over China’s plan to increase Antarctic krill fishery

Mcclatchydc.com reports, 19th March 2015: “Scientists studying the Antarctic’s marine life received some unexpected news this month: China plans to vastly increase fishing for Antarctic krill — small crustaceans that are a critical food for the continent’s penguins and other creatures.

“China currently harvests about 32,000 metric tons of krill annually from Antarctica’s waters, topped by only Norway and South Korea. Under China’s plans, detailed in a March 4 story in the state-run China Daily, the world’s most populous country would increase those catches 30 to 60 times, harvesting up to 2 million metric tons yearly.

“Rodolfo Werner, a marine scientist and adviser to Antarctic conservation groups, said he doubts China can ramp up its catches to that level. But the fact that China has announced such ambitious plans worries him, partly because other countries might follow suit.

“I’m concerned — very concerned,” said Werner in a telephone interview from his home in San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina. “If they invest big money in their fishing fleets, it will push the system to relax the current (Antarctic) catch limits.”

“Beijing’s fishing plans are part of its larger strategic interests in the frozen continent. Over the last three decades, China has built four research stations in Antarctica and is preparing to build a fifth. While an international treaty protects Antarctica from militarization and mining, the Chinese research stations have fuelled speculation that China has long-term plans to exploit the continent’s vast energy and mineral resources.

“With a population of nearly 1.4 billion, China is highly concerned about food security, and, like other countries, it harvests krill for a variety of products. These include livestock and aquaculture feed, fish bait and omega-3 dietary supplements. Norway is the world’s largest harvester of Antarctic krill, largely to supply the supplements industry with omega-3 fatty acids.

“Worldwide, huge swarms of krill help feed whales, penguins and other marine animals. Antarctic krill are small creatures — about 2½ inches long — but incredibly abundant. Scientists believe that the total weight of Antarctic krill is greater than the cumulative weight of any other animal species.

“Despite that abundance, many conservationists are concerned that the Antarctic’s food chain is already being harmed by industrial krill fishing. Populations of Adélie and chinstrap penguins have declined more than 50 percent in the West Antarctic Peninsula in the last 30 years, and at least one study has linked the decline to a reduction in krill.

“For China to ramp up its krill harvests, it would have to get approval from the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. The commission was formed in 1982 following two decades of unregulated krill fishing in the Antarctic, mainly by the former Soviet Union. The commission remains controversial, partly because its voting membership is made up of countries with a financial interest in commercializing krill.

“Krill fishing fleets range from traditional trawlers to more modern vessels that literally vacuum krill from the ocean and process the catch on board. China currently has eight boats in use; it would have to greatly increase its fleet to increase its catches to 2 million metric tons yearly.

“That’s about seven times the Antarctic krill currently harvested by all nations annually.

Source: McclatchyDC.com, 19th March 2015. For the full text, see http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2015/03/19/260369/china-fishing-plan-in-antarctica.html

 

Also see: Petition requesting WWF to stop supporting companies engaged in krill fishing: https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/Ask_WWF_to_stop_supporting_the_krill_fishery_in_the_Antarctic


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