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. Historically, Antarctic whales were harvested for baleen and blubber oil, and fur seals were killed for their pelts. Today, the primary species targeted by Antarctic fisheries are Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba), a keystone species in Antarctic ecosystems, and both Patagonian and Antarctic toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides and Dissostichus mawsoni).

As the warming climate puts additional pressure on marine life, we must do more to safeguard vulnerable Antarctic ecosystems. 

ANTARCTIC FISHERIES

What are the impacts?

Fisheries in the Southern Ocean have many impacts including unintended bycatch and introduction of invasive species through biofouling, and the human and environmental costs of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Below are some of our current areas of focus.

Ghost fishing gear

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Vessel in water
Plastic pollution

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Adelie penguins
Vulnerable ecosystems

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CCAMLR meeting. Photo by Bob Zuur.

Who regulates Antarctic fisheries?

Antarctic Fisheries

The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) is an international body responsible for the conservation of living marine resources (excluding mammals) in the Southern Ocean. As an instrument within the Antarctic Treaty System, it takes a precautionary, ecosystem-based approach to the management of Antarctic fisheries.

CCAMLR is made up of 25 Member countries and the European Union, which meet each year to make decisions on issues such as the closure and opening of fisheries in Antarctica, total allowable catches (TACs), and the designation of marine protected areas (MPAs)

patagonian toothfish
Patagonian toothfish. Image Source: U.S. FDA

Other regulatory bodies

Antarctic Fisheries

While CCAMLR is responsible for conserving and managing the entire Southern Ocean ecosystem, there are several other international conventions and organizations that play a role in regulating Antarctic fisheries. 

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN) responsible for the safety, security and environmental performance of worldwide shipping, including shipping related to fisheries. Learn more about the IMO. 

Other elements of the Antarctic governance regime, such as Annex IV (Marine Pollution) of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, also contribute to the regulatory framework for Southern Ocean fisheries. Learn more about Antarctic governance.

“The two big crises on the planet are biodiversity and climate, and the one place to take concrete action on both is at CCAMLR. This is where we have to show we are serious”

Andrea Kavanagh
Director of Pew Charitable Trust: Antarctic and Southern Ocean
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. 

Rally for Antarctica, May 2022. Brandenburg Gate, Berlin. Photo: Saskia Uppenkamp.
Rally for Antarctica, May 2022. Brandenburg Gate, Berlin. Photo: Saskia Uppenkamp.
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