First proposed in 2011, the declaration of an internationally-recognised Marine Protected Area (MPA) around East Antarctica in the Southern Ocean would instil catch limits for krill, tooth fish and other Antarctic marine life.
The discussions took place at the latest meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) which took place in Hobart, Australia. After several years of failed attempts, this year the EU and Australia shrunk the size of the MPA from 1.9 million sq km – as was initially proposed – to one million sq km. Despite its blocking the proposal at every previous meeting, it had been hoped that Russia would this time be ready to accept the reduced MPA. However, Russia challenged the proposal once again, and was unexpectedly joined by China in blocking the MPA for another year. Ukraine, which last year voted with Russia to block the proposal, this year voted with the EU to approve it.
'The waters around Antarctica are among the least damaged ecosystems in the world,' said Richard Page, CCAMLR delegate and Oceans Campaigner for Greenpeace. 'It's a shame that geopolitical interests are overriding genuine efforts to protect large areas of the ocean for future generations.'
The CCAMLR was established in 1982, with the goal of ensuring conservation of Antarctic marine life. CCAMLR members comprise of the EU and 24 other states, including Australia, the USA, Russia and China.
Fishing for Antarctic toothfish (Dissostichus mawsoni) started in 1998, and escalated to a peak of 4,448 tonnes in 2006. The 2013 catch was 4,064 tonnes. A close relative, the Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides), has been fished in the Pacific and Southern Ocean since the late 1970s, after successfully being branded to consumers as 'Chilean Sea Bass'. The CCAMLR reports fishing for Patagonian toothfish peaked at 16,912 tonnes in 2000, and was 10,707 tonnes in 2013. However, both toothfish species have suffered severely from illegal fishing, with the CCAMLR estimated catches of five to six times the official numbers, putting both populations in danger of crashing.
Outcomes from the Hobart meeting which were agreed upon include setting catch limits on existing CCAMLR-managed fisheries, further research towards studying toothfish, and an agreement to share vessel monitoring data in the Southern Ocean. The CCAMLR will meet next in Warsaw, Poland, in June 2015.