Antarctic Fisheries

The climate crisis is influencing the Southern Ocean and its ecosystems. At this time of rapid change, ASOC advocates for a precautionary approach to Antarctic fisheries, supporting resilient ecosystems into the future. 

fishing vessel at work
Vessel in Antarctic waters

What’s happening?

Antarctic Fisheries

Many species unique to the Southern Ocean have been, or continue to be commercially fished in the waters around Antarctica. Today, the primary species targeted by Antarctic fisheries are Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) and both Patagonian and Antarctic toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides and Dissostichus mawsoni).

There are several challenges related to regulating Antarctic fisheries. These include preventing illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, reducing bycatch, and both setting and enforcing catch limits to safeguard the ongoing health and resilience of Antarctic ecosystems. 

Convention area 48 (green area) of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) and its Subareas.
The Southwest Atlantic sector of the Southern Ocean, where the majority of Antarctic krill fisheries are concentrated. Image credit: Meyer, B., Atkinson, A., Bernard, K.S. et al. Commun Earth Environ 1, 28 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43247-020-00026-1

Antarctic krill

Antarctic Fisheries

One area of particular importance today is the Antarctic krill fishery. Antarctic krill are a keystone species within the Antarctic marine ecosystem, and a vital food source for most Antarctic predators from penguins to seals and whales.

More than half of the Antarctic krill population (up to 70 percent) lives in a relatively small region of the Southern Ocean, which has become the focus of the modern krill fishery. This area is also a climate crisis hotspot, and one of the most rapidly changing ecosystems in the Southern Hemisphere.

Krill NSF
Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) Photo credit: Langdon Quentin and Robin Ross, Marine Science Institute, University of California, Santa Barbara, and National Science Foundation.
Adelie penguins
Adélie penguins

Fisheries in climate hotspots

WHAT’S HAPPENING

Off the coast of the west Antarctic Peninsula, summer sea surface temperatures have increased by over 1.8°F (1°C) since 1955, and the winter sea ice duration declined by almost 100 days between 1978 and 2014. Around the same time, several Adélie penguin colonies in the area vanished, and many others declined in size. These changes appear to be linked to reduced availability of krill in nearby waters. 

Exactly how all of these changes are related is an area of current research. More data is needed to understand the complex changes taking place in this vulnerable ecosystem, and ensure that human activity will not adversely affect the krill populations, the predators that depend on them or the broader ecosystem. 

vessel in Antarctica

ANTARCTIC FISHERIES

What ASOC is doing

ASOC advocates for science-based policies that promote vibrant, resilient Antarctic ecosystems into the future. We actively support strong, enforceable regulation of Antarctic fisheries at the highest level of Antarctic governance.

ANTARCTIC FISHERIES

How we work

As the only environmental NGO invited to observe Antarctic Treaty meetings, we represent the Antarctic conservation community at the highest levels of Antarctic governance. We work within the system to support effective regulation of Antarctic fisheries in the following ways.

weddell seal underwater

Protection

ASOC strongly supports the establishment of a representative network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) across the Southern Ocean. 

Designated MPAs are the most effective way to protect ocean ecosystems. 

They protect biodiversity, while mitigating the impacts of a changing climate and providing reference areas for scientific research.

Protecting large areas from fishing and pollution will provide refuges for vulnerable species whose habitat may be changing dramatically. 

Advocacy

ASOC monitors all issues that impact the Antarctic including fisheries management, biological prospecting and pirate fishing.

As the only official environmental NGO observer at CCAMLR meetings, we present science-based policy proposals and provide Treaty parties with reliable information on how to protect the Antarctic environment. We also advocate for strict port state measures to reduce IUU fishing. 

Liability

ASOC advocates for strengthening liability and accountability for states and operators who cause damage to the Antarctic environment, threatening its land, waters, and species.

The question of who is liable for environmental damage in Antarctica is critical to its protection. An environmental emergency in Antarctica would be disastrous and costly to remedy, with grave consequences for fragile ecosystems in areas that are extremely difficult to access. 

Despite decades of negotiation, the question of who is liable for damage caused in the Antarctic Treaty Area remains unanswered. If there was a major environmental incident in Antarctic waters, there are several unknowns: who is responsible for coordinating the cleanup response? Who pays for the repair work? Who ensures that it’s done, and done well? How is this enforced? And what happens if the responsible parties refuse to do the work? Without answers to these questions, an environmental crisis could turn into a global disaster. As the Exxon Valdez oil spill showed us in the 1980s, environmental emergencies in remote areas are costly, time-consuming and resource-intensive to remediate. Establishing liability for environmental damage in Antarctica is essential, both to promote accountability among those operating in

Antarctica, and to discourage high-risk activities.

ASOC continues to advocate for the adoption of preventative regulations that both deter parties and operators from taking risks that could cause environmental damage, and establish liability in advance of an incident. 

Protocol

ASOC supports the full and effective implementation of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty. 

Antarctica’s Environmental Protocol provides a legally binding set of conservation measures that covers most activities in the Antarctic Treaty area. However, although it entered into force in 1998, some important provisions of the Protocol still haven’t been put in place. For example, we are still waiting for a system of protected areas to be created, and a liability regime to be established.

ASOC campaigns for full and effective implementation of the Environmental Protocol so Antarctica will be governed to the highest standard of environmental protection possible. 

What you can do

FISHERIES MANAGEMENT

Krill
Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba)
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