Friday, November 21, 2014

21/11/2014: Steward of the sea

With opportunities come responsibilities, especially for those working in the Antarctic’s fragile ecosystem. 

Companies that harvest krill there are entrusted to care for and handle responsibly this bountiful – but not unlimited – resource. This responsibility makes Antarctic fisheries, like Aker BioMarine, stewards of the sea.

Conventions limit the catch
When exploratory krill fishing began in the 1960s, catch levels were low compared with the 1980s when commercial fisheries caught more than half a million tonnes of krill. This raised concerns that fisheries would deplete local krill stock and threaten predators, such as fish and whales.

To protect the ecosystem, the Convention of the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) was signed. This international treaty continues to oversee krill fishing with 25 members, including six countries that fish for krill. In advance of each season, CCAMLR requires vessels to annually notify their fishing area and potential catches.

Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), an international nonprofit organisation with an independent certifying body and a public assessment process, has developed sustainable fishing and seafood traceability standards. To be certified, MSC assesses the fishery management, its impact on the stock and on species dependent on the krill, while monitoring the wider ecosystem.

In 2010, MSC certified Aker BioMarine’s krill fishery as sustainable and 100% traceable, allowing the fishery to carry the distinct blue eco-label on its products. There are hundreds of million tonnes of Antarctic krill around Antarctica in the Southern Ocean. All of Aker BioMarine’s catch takes place in Area 48, where the majority of the krill industry primarily operates.
In Area 48, the industry is allowed to harvest 1 per cent of the estimated 60 million tonnes of krill. Today, the catch level is around one third of this allowable level. In the spirit of fisheries’ stewardship, Aker BioMarine and Olympic Fisheries survey its fishing areas annually and update stock size for management organizations. Aker BioMarine’s fishery is currently undergoing the MSC re-certification process.

Commitment to research
Stewardship is a collective responsibility. There are few scientific research vessels operating around Antarctica, and they are only present in the region for short periods each year. The Association of Responsible Krill (ARK) Fishing Companies, an organization developed to promote research for the sustainable harvest of Antarctic krill, encourages krill fishing vessels to collect scientific data. 

This provides information on krill stocks, and more importantly expands the knowledge of stock dynamics. With this knowledge, all parties will have a better understanding of the Antarctic’s ecosystem. To reach this goal, Aker BioMarine has established procedures for monthly and haul-by-haul data from the fishery, and carries scientific international observers.
Acting responsibly means going beyond general operating requirements and taking extra voluntary steps to responsibly use the valuable marine resources harvested. Collaboration extends beyond companies’ individual networks, to include environmental NGOs and contact with scientists. Aker BioMarine cooperates actively with NGO’s and leading scientist involved in Antarctic conservation and resarch.

A state of the art steward
Aker BioMarine's vessels, Antarctic Sea and Saga Sea, use Pelagic trawls with its Eco-Harvesting system, which harvests live krill on demand. The system’s hose (between the trawl and the vessel) allows the fishing net to stay underwater during the entire operation. 

This minimises interactions between the net and krill surface predators (especially seals and birds) as the net is not hauled and shot. At the opening of the net, a fine-mesh screen excludes unwanted by-catch (non-krill). This novel harvesting method, combined with independent observers catch reports and underwater cameras assure that that only 0.2 per cent of the catch composition is species other than krill.
Aker BioMarine takes its certification as seriously as its technology, not just fulfilling its current obligations but looking towards its future responsibility. The current assessment process does not include seasonal changes in stock size, natural fluctuations in krill abundance and the effect of climate change (e.g. warmer and more acidic oceans) on krill. Looking towards the future, the main challenge is a synoptic survey of Antarctic krill.

The last survey conducted was CCAMLR’s multi-ship acoustic survey of Area 48 in 2000. The Institute of Marine Research is together with its partners, developing a new methodology in order to survey Antarctic krill. The OG Sars research vessel will be bringing this new technology to survey the krill population in 2016. An honest steward of the sea has sustainability at the heart of its operations and continues to care for the krill at large.

Read more HERE.

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