Steps taken to strengthen marine reserves in Antarctica

The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) has held its annual meetings (2012) in Hobart, Australia, resulting in new measures strengthening marine conservation in the Southern Ocean.

Main outcomes of CCAMLR’s annual meeting 2012

  • Research will be conducted in five Antarctic areas where little or no research has previously been carried out. The data-poor areas, where strictly limited exploratory fishing for toothfish is permitted, are situated in the southern Indian Ocean and South Atlantic sectors. Extensive research plans, developed by Members over several years by the Commission’s Scientific Committee and its Working Groups, have now been adopted for the 2012/2013 fishing season starting 1 December 2012.
  • New procedures for estimating green weight (live catch) in krill fisheries have been adopted by the Commission. This refined way of measuring live catch will improve the accuracy of catch, which accordingly will improve setting catch limits.
  • A feed-back management system for krill fisheries, using real-time abundance of krill catch data, is being developed. This management system involves commercial fishing vessels collecting acoustic and other data, which will be used for research and estimating krill abundance, status and trends.
  • A Special Meeting of the Commission will be held in Germany in July 2013, preceded by a meeting of the Scientific Committee, continuing discussions and negotiations on the establishment of marine protected areas (MPAs) in Antarctica.

Extra meeting as Members push for the establishment of MPAs in Antarctica

In 2009 CCAMLR established a 94,000 km2 MPA around the South Orkney Islands. This area was the first MPA entirely located in the high seas in the area regulated by CCAMLR and was achieved through a combination of scientific and international policy work. Since then, further scientific research has been carried out by CCAMLR Members analysing other Antarctic marine areas as candidates for the establishment of MPAs.

This year four proposals were submitted to the Commission by CCAMLR Members for the establishment of MPAs in the Antarctic: two in the Ross Sea (one by New Zealand and the other by the USA), one in east Antarctica (by Australia, France and the EU), and one in west Antarctica (by the EU). During the meeting New Zealand and the USA merged their proposals for the Ross Sea.

Establishing MPAs is a complex process involving a large amount of scientific research as well as international diplomacy. Agreeing on three major proposals for the establishment of marine protected areas, each involving 1.9 to 2.4 million km2, proved to be a task needing more time and consideration than was available during the Commission’s eight day annual meeting in 2012. It was decided by the Commission that further consideration of the proposals is needed. Therefore, there will be a Special Meeting of the Commission to be held in Germany in July, 2013. This Special Meeting will be preceded by a meeting of the Scientific Committee. In the 31 years it has been established, CCAMLR has only ever convened one other special session – in 1986.

CCAMLR’s history shows that significant decisions, such as establishing MPAs, require a substantial amount of time and consideration. The Commission operates by consensus, meaning that all Members must agree before a decision can be adopted. However, history also shows that CCAMLR has implemented a large range of conservation measures addressing, for example, seabird by-catch, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and the implementation of measures that protect vulnerable marine ecosystems.

Main achievements of CCAMLR

  1. Ecosystem-based fisheries management since the 1980s

Harvesting of Antarctic marine living resources in accordance with the ‘ecosystem approach’ is embodied in Article II of the CAMLR Convention, which was established in 1982. CCAMLR’s management decisions take account of the impact on the ecosystem of harvesting activities. In order to provide information on the effects of fishing on dependent species, CCAMLR set up the CCAMLR Ecosystem Monitoring Program (CEMP) in 1985. CEMP’s major function is to monitor the key life-history parameters of selected dependent species, to detect changes in the status and trends of their populations and to detect changes in the abundance of harvested species.

  1. Reduction in seabird by-catch mortality

During its 31 years CCAMLR has implemented a wide range of conservation measures to improve the conservation of Antarctic ecosystems. One such measure is the reduction of seabird by-catch mortality in CCAMLR managed fisheries, from close to 7,000 seabirds in 1997 to close to zero in 2012.

  1. Combating illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing

Another significant achievement has been combating illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing. A combination of surveillance, port and at-sea inspections, Vessel Monitoring System, black list and market controls have significantly reduced IUU fishing that undermines the conservation measures adopted by CCAMLR. Fish catches taken by IUU vessels, for example, have decreased from an estimated 40,000 tonnes per year in the 1990s to less than 2,000 tonnes in 2010/2011.

  1. Protection of vulnerable marine ecosystems (VME)

CCAMLR has had conservation measures in place for protecting benthic (sea floor) organisms for decades. Measures adopted in 2007 help safeguard VMEs from bottom fishing impacts by requiring fishing vessels to cease operation if they encounter evidence of a VME, and preventing future fishing in the area until appropriate scientific and management actions have been established.

Source: CCAMLR News Release, 2nd November 2012

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