Protecting the base of the Southern ocean marine food web
Krill are the basis of life for hundreds of different species of fish, seabirds, and marine mammals. Vast krill banks in the icy Southern Ocean are now targets of a new generation of factory trawlers that can vacuum up as much as 120,000 tonnes of krill in a season, most of it intended for use as food for industrially-farmed salmon.
Decline or collapse of the antarctic krill banks could have immense effects on dependent predators such as whales, penguins, and seals.
In October, the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) will meet in Australia to consider stronger measures to protect the Southern Ocean krill. Read Clifton Curtis’ op-ed in the IHT. (Curtis directs the Pew Charitable Trust’s Antarctic Krill Conservation Project.)
Part of the problem is that current harvest limits for krill are set for large areas of the ocean and “do not take into account the ecological relationships between krill, dependent species, and fishing operations” — relationships which operate at smaller scales.
The campaign is working to get the CCAMLR to manage krill using the same monitoring, control, and surveillance measures mandated for other fisheries in the Southern Ocean, and for CCAMLR to approve precautionary, ecosystem-based catch limits defined at sufficiently small scales to protect marine predators dependent on krill. Other specific measures under consideration are placing scientific observers on board krill hunteres, tamper-proof monitoring systems, and improved fisheries data reporting.
Krill aren’t big, furry, or affectionate, and not too many people find them cute. But they are important, and the people working on this issue are doing something important and deserve support.
- The Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition [ASOC] Report on the XIX Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) (PDF) held in Edinburgh over 12-23 June, 2006;
- Management of Antarctic Krill (PDF), an information paper submitted by ASOC to the XXIX ATCM (2006);
- the website of Lighthouse Foundation for oceans and seas, which discusses some of the ecological issues surrounding management of krill fishing in the antarctic;
- ASOC has a website with links to many other organizations concerned with wildlife conservation in the Antarctic.