After a two-week meeting in Hobart, Australia, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), committed to new MPAs to add to that established at the South Orkney Islands in 2009, where all commercial fishing is banned.
Almost all of the tightly controlled and monitored annual krill harvest of about 210,000 tonnes is caught in the Scotia Sea and West Antarctic Peninsula.
While it is not certain where the new MPAs will be, Aker welcomed the developments.
"The establishment of protected areas in the Southern Ocean will benefit all players in the krill fishery," said Sigve Nordrum, senior vice president and sustainability director at Aker BioMarine Antarctic.
"Since the company's inception Aker BioMarine Antarctic has worked with CCAMLR as well as conservation organisations including World Wildlife Fund-Norway to maintain a sustainable krill fishery and actively supports scientific research needed for CCAMLR's management of Antarctic krill.”
Less human disturbance
Dr Simeon Hill, an environmental scientist from the British Antarctic Survey, said MPAs were important tools in preserving biodiversity and ecosystems.
“Because MPAs have less human disturbance than other parts of the sea they are useful reference areas for monitoring ecological change,” he said.
“MPAs are not a substitute for effective fisheries management, but they can make an important contribution to marine conservation. It is important to monitor their effectiveness so that we can assess this contribution.”
Of the Scotia Sea and West Antarctic Peninsula fisheries, where studies have linked declining penguin numbers to falling krill numbers although fishing is not believed to be the culprit rather environmental issues like less sea ice and, he noted: “CCAMLR has a highly precautionary catch limit for this whole region and lower individual catch limits for four sub-regions. The specific restrictions on human activities might be different for each MPA.”
Speaking at the Hobart meeting that concluded earlier this month, krill researcher Dr Stephen Nicol (pictured), said the krill fishery for the omega-3 source was one of the world’s best managed.
"With a highly precautionary management regime, the fishery has operated for 40 years with no indication that it has had any effect on krill stocks or their predators," said Dr Nicol.
The Norwegian Ministry of Fishery and Costal Affairs also supported CCAMLR’s work with its representative to the group, Karsten Klepsvok commenting: "This important step represents a milestone and lays an excellent foundation for a continued balance between the protection and sustainable harvest of the Southern Ocean."