Krill are the lifeblood of the Antarctic. Nearly every species in the Southern Ocean is connected in some way to these shrimplike crustaceans. Krill are also a critical carbon sink, locking up the carbon equivalent of the emissions from 35 million cars a year.
Soon this linchpin species will receive extra protections in the most valuable forage grounds for the penguins, seals, and whales that depend on them.
The Association of Responsible Krill harvesting companies (ARK), which represents 85 percent of the krill industry in the Antarctic, committed this week to stop fishing in large coastal areas around the Antarctic Peninsula. The decision is a big win for Southern Ocean species, whose survival is threatened by a changing climate and diminishing food sources.
More importantly, ARK members pledged to support the creation of a network of marine protected areas (MPAs) around the continent that would include large no-fishing zones. This is a visionary step that more fishing companies in Antarctica and around the world should follow.
The krill fishing industry should continue to engage with scientists who advise the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which is tasked with protecting the Southern Ocean’s biodiversity. These scientists are working to design MPAs in the Antarctic Peninsula. ARK members and these scientists should work together to determine how these voluntary measures can ultimately be replaced by an MPA designation. The companies should also commit to assist with the needed research and monitoring of the future MPAs.
Such cooperation among scientists, governments, industry, and conservation groups is required to protect 30 percent of the ocean—a level scientists say is needed to maintain global ocean health. We expect to see the Weddell Sea and waters off East Antarctica declared marine parks at the annual CCAMLR meeting in Hobart, Tasmania, this October. ARK’s commitment to protecting krill sets the Southern Ocean conservation bar high. Governments should follow industry’s lead and support MPAs.
Andrea Kavanagh directs The Pew Charitable Trusts’ protecting Antarctica’s Southern Ocean campaign.