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Marine Science



Krill industry joins forces to protect penguins in Antarctica

An NGO-industry collaboration to protect the Antarctic Ocean today announces a big step forward with a year-round permanent closure of a 4 500km2 area of ocean around Hope Bay in the northern Antarctic Peninsula. The move is supported by the Association of Responsible Krill harvesting companies (ARK) and an NGO coalition of Greenpeace, Pew, WWF and Oceanites.

This major closure supported by the largest krill fishing companies will see nearly all krill companies operating in the Antarctic expanding the voluntary restricted zones that went into effect in 2018. This step would secure the year-round protection of the largest Adélie penguin colony in the region and send a strong statement of intent in support of a marine protected area in the Antarctic Peninsula from industry to the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) and the entire Antarctic community.

Studies have shown a strong population decline among the Adélie penguins within the time span they have been monitored. By closing this area, the krill industry reinforces its precautionary approach, upholding important ecosystem values and facilitating a better scientific understanding of penguin performance. This move will also help answer the question of why some colonies are in decline and others are not.

A widely supported voluntary measure to conserve the ecosystem and improve understanding 

In dialogue with Greenpeace, Pew and WWF in 2018, the world’s leading krill companies voluntarily committed to stop fishing during the penguin breeding season in some of the identified ecologically sensitive areas recommended for protection. From the 2020/21 season, these krill companies will observe a permanent closure covering 4500km2 of these areas, whilst continuing to support the process to create a vast protected area in the region through advocacy and contribution to relevant scientific research.

Pål Skogrand, Director of Antarctic Affairs, Aker BioMarine, said:

“Nature is changing fast in Antarctica, faster than policy and regulation is able to understand and keep up with. When the krill industry moves to an all-year closure ahead of its time, this is a necessary precautionary action that we take because we can. To get things right in Antarctica we need to move outside of our comfort zones and develop “shared ownership” of crucial conservation concepts across industry, Governments and NGOs”.

Dr Javier Arata, Executive Officer of ARK said: “We are extremely proud that ARK has been able to take such an important step. The area surrounding Hope Bay previously was open for krill harvesting, and it’s now being voluntarily closed by the industry. Despite minimal fishery activity in this area of late, this move still serves as a strong signal to regulators and scientists. We want to show that industry can be a positive force for ecosystem conservation in Antarctica.”

Will McCallum of Greenpeace’s Protect the Oceans campaign, said:

“This is a major step towards seeing permanent protection in the Antarctic Peninsula and we are pleased to see the fishing industry listening to the movement of individuals, scientists and politicians across the world calling for ocean protection.”

“By creating this sanctuary around Hope Bay, the krill fishing industry is taking more action to protect the Antarctic than the governments responsible for its conservation. It’s a shocking indictment of the failure of the Antarctic Ocean Commission to act on the scientific proposals put forward to protect this area. We urge governments to step up and commit to creating ocean sanctuaries in the Antarctic, free from harmful human activities. At this year’s major UN conference on Biodiversity they need to agree an ambitious target to protect at least 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030.”

Andrea Kavanagh, director of Antarctic and Southern Ocean work for The Pew Charitable Trusts, said: “This good news for the Southern Ocean provides a bright spot at the end of 2020, and it’s fitting that the newly protected region includes Hope Bay, because the fisheries closure represents new hope for Adélie penguins. Several of the world’s largest mega-colonies of these penguins live in this part of the Antarctic Peninsula, relying on krill as a prime source of forage food, and some populations have suffered a 38% decline in the past 18 years. The region is also home to seals, whales, and Gentoo penguins. This new year-round closure is an important step, following the seasonal closures implemented two years ago by industry, and reconfirms the willingness of industry leaders to work toward permanently protecting this spectacular region with an Antarctic Peninsula marine protected area. We hope that governments responsible for managing this area can catch up to industry and expand on this closure by permanently protecting this most heavily fished—and most visited by tourists—part of Antarctica, which is warming faster than nearly anywhere else on Earth.”

Chris Johnson, WWF Global Whale Conservation Lead said: “The Antarctic Peninsula is one of the most spectacular and fragile places on Earth. This region is home to iconic ocean giants such as fin, humpback, minke whales foraging on tiny Antarctic krill among a wealth of wildlife such as seals, seabirds and penguins. Since 1979, sea-ice duration has decreased by 85 days annually here and we are running out of time to implement meaningful conservation. We need to establish strong marine management to give nature the space it needs to thrive. Now Governments need to step up and respond to deliver their commitments to protect the Antarctic.”

Ron Naveen of Oceanites said: “I am pleased that ARK has paid close attention to data collection and monitoring aspects of its Voluntary Restricted Zones (VRZ) plan. Indeed, ARK has highlighted the conclusion of its Expert Panel that there are major data gaps making an assessment of the VRZs impossible without the implementation of a stratified, long-term program that monitors key elements of the ecosystem (e.g. penguin productivity at key sites, whale-fishery interactions) and that such a program also would assist an evaluation of any other conservation measures that may be proposed. Oceanites is proceeding to fashion such a program and looks forward to working with ARK members and Review Panel colleagues to ensure its success.”

Phil Trathan, Head of Conservation Biology at British Antarctic Survey (BAS): “This commitment by ARK to create a voluntary no-take fishery zone, ahead of legally binding management measures, shows that the fishing industry understands the need to protect the Antarctic marine ecosystem. With this decision, ARK is demonstrating its commitment to fish responsibly and sustainably. This shows ARKs support for the designation of Marine Protected Areas in sensitive locations close to where the fishery operates. This is a first step demonstrating that industry can lead and be part of the solution. To the best of my knowledge, this is unprecedented and the first time that a fishing industry anywhere in the world has made such a positive commitment”.