Krill Exploitation

Concern over the need for proper management and conservation of Antarctic krill (and other living resources as well) has been voiced by members of the scientific community and by international organizations. The former's concern stems from the lack of adequate information on a host of questions concerning krill growth rates, rate of advance to maturity, longevity, fecundity and spawning events, and the temporal and spatial differences within the populations throughout their circumpolar range. Effective management and conservation depend on the availability of this kind of information.

In response to a request from the Antarctic Treaty Organization regarding the Antarctic marine living resources, the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) established the Group of Specialists on Southern Ocean Ecosystems and their Living Resources to expand the scientific understanding of the Antarctic marine ecosystem. The group developed a plan for the "Biological Investigations of Antarctic Marine Systems and Stocks" (BIOMASS). The principal objective of the BIOMASS Programme is, "to gain a deeper understanding of the structure and dynamic functioning of the Antarctic marine ecosystem as a basis for the future management of potential living resources" (El-Sayed, 1977). Implementation of the programme began with the planning and execution of a coordinated, multinational, multidisciplinary research effort. This effort was planned to develop a better understanding of (a) krill's fundamental biology, (b) the dependence of higher trophic levels on krill stocks, and (c) the interrelations between krill swarming and the hydrographic features of Antarctic waters. The austral summer of 1980/81 was chosen for the First International BIOMASS Experiment (FIBEX) in which 13 ships from 11 nations participated in the largest biological oceanographic expedition ever mounted in the Southern Ocean. The Second International BIOMASS Experiment (SIBEX-I and SIBEX-II) was carried out in the 1983/84 and 1984/85 austral summers. The primary objective of SIBEX was to obtain a better understanding of the dynamics of the krill-dominated part of the Antarctic marine ecosystem, particularly the relationship between the advance and retreat of sea-ice and krill distribution and abundance. From these studies, sufficient information should become available before intensive krill exploitation begins.

In response to a recommendation of the Antarctic Treaty, a Special Antarctic Treaty Consultative meeting was also held in 1978 to begin negotiating a convention on the conservation of Antarctic marine living resources. The Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources was ratified in April 1982 and will provide comprehensive research into krill ecology and a monitored quota system based on gradually expanding knowledge about krill. The convention is intended to ensure that the Antarctic marine ecosystem is not affected adversely by the harvesting of Antarctic krill or other marine living resources. To this end, the convention has set up a commission to pose questions and facilitate research, adopt conservation measures, and generally work toward implementing the conservation principles so strongly advocated by the scientific community.

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