Friday, June 19, 2015

19/06/2015: Antarctic Krill: Lifeblood of the Southern Ocean
First published in International Aquafeed, May-June 2015

Krill are small crustaceans, like shrimp. The Antarctic krill, Euphausia superba, live in large schools in the cold, pristine waters of Antarctica. The Southern Ocean is home to thousands of different marine life species, all dependent on each other in a vulnerable ecosystem.

The Southern Ocean surrounds Antarctica, which is the coldest, driest and windiest continent on earth.

We find the Antarctic krill in the middle of the food chain between the microscopic plants and animals and the larger animals. Krill are food for humpback wales, fish and penguins. Krill are feed for fish. Krill for aquafeed is a growth accelerator and efficiency driver.

Did you know that?  

  • Antarctica is the highest continent in the world? The average elevation is 2300 meters because of the thickness of its ice sheet. 
  • Antarctica is one-and-a-half times the size of the United States? 
  • Antarctica has the world’s largest desert?
Antarctic krill is a bountiful, but not unlimited, resource. When exploratory krill fishing began in the 1960s, the catch levels were low. In the 1980s commercial fisheries caught more than half a million tons of krill. This raised serious concerns that the fisheries were depleting local krill stock, causing an irreversible damage to the ecosystem and threatening predators such as fish, whales and penguins.

"Krill is the lifeblood of the Southern Ocean and supports important Antarctic wildlife such as whales, seals and penguins. It is crucial that krill fishing is done in a responsible and sustainable way,” said Bob Zuur, Manager of WWF’s Antarctic program in a press release.

International Convention regulates and caps the catch
The Convention of the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) protects the ecosystem. This international treaty oversees krill fishing, with 25 members including six countries that fish for krill. In advance of each season, CCAMLR requires vessels to notify their fishing area and potential catch. There are hundreds of million tons of Antarctic krill in the Southern Ocean. The majority of the krill industry operates in Area 48. In Area 48, the industry is allowed to harvest one percent of the estimated 60 million tons of krill. Today, the catch level is about one half of the allowable level.

Responsible business goes beyond sustainable fishing
“Sustainable krill fishing is our licence to operate,” says Sigve Nordrum, Sustainability Director in Aker BioMarine, the biggest krill company. But responsible business goes beyond the licence to operate in Antarctica. Responsible krill fishing means developing technology that solves today’s problems and asking right questions gather the latest data and close the knowledge gaps about the region.
Photo courtesy of ©Kjell Rune Venaas
Third parties certify the fisheries
Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), an international non-profit organisation with an independent certifying body and a public assessment process, has developed sustainable fishing and seafood traceability standards. In 2012 Accenture ranked it as the leading eco-label for seafood products. In 2015 MSC re-certified Aker BioMarine as sustainable and 100 percent traceable, allowing the fishery to carry the distinct blue eco-label on its products.

Technology reduces by-catch
In addition to its third party certification, new technology is continuously developed, limiting the impact of krill fishing on the ecosystem in the Antarctic. Aker BioMarine’s vessels, Antarctic Sea and Saga Sea, use Pelagic trawls with its Eco-Harvesting system. The system’s hose (between the trawl and the vessel) allows the fishing net to stay underwater during the entire operation. This reduces the interactions between the net and the krill surface predators (especially birds and seals) as the net is not hauled and shot. The mesh opening of the net excludes unwanted by-catch.

Scientific data gathering
It is only possible to change what is known. Scientific data gathering and research are focus areas for the fisheries active in Antarctic. With the harsh conditions, the scientific vessels are only present in Antarctic for a short period of time every year. As the krill fishing vessels operate on the fishing grounds for most of the year and are well positioned to the collect the data, the Association of Responsible Krill (ARK) Fishing Companies, has encouraged krill fishing vessels to host scientists and collect scientific data. This provides updated information on the krill stocks and expands the industry’s knowledge on stock dynamics.
Krill populations vary in size from year to year.

And in extreme circumstances, krill shortages have affected the breeding of seals and penguins. In other areas of the Antarctic, it has been difficult to link the krill population fluctuation with the health of the seal and penguin population. The current assessment process does not include seasonal changes in stock size, natural fluctuations in krill abundance and the effect of climate change (for example, warmer and more acidic oceans) on krill. The main challenge is to get a synoptic survey of the Antarctic krill. These data points need to be collected to better understand the ecosystem and protect it.

But there is still so much that is unknown about the Antarctic’s ecosystem. And there is still so much data missing. The knowledge gap is still big.
Photo courtesy of ©Kjell Rune Venaas
Cooperation and research needed to go above and beyond
“Responsibility is a shared commitment for our shared future. Operating sustainably within a complex ecosystem like the Antarctic is not a solo effort. It requires a team from multiple disciplines. This requires collaboration beyond the fisheries’ networks, close partnerships between the fisheries and environmental non-governmental organisations and contact with leading scientists on Antarctic conservation and research,” says Aker BioMarine’s Sigve Nordrum.

Establishing The Antarctic Wildlife Research Fund
In January 2015, scientists, businesses and environmental organisations joined forces to address a shared concern: Too little is known about the Antarctic Wildlife and ecosystem. Representatives from the non-governmental organisations Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC) WWF-Norway and Aker BioMarine established an independent research foundation: the Antarctic Wildlife Research Fund (AWR).

The research fund will finance much needed ecosystem research and monitoring activities to increase the data and knowledge around the Antarctic ecosystem.

"I am particularly pleased to see the launch of this research fund as I believe it shows a real commitment from the fishing industry to engage in sustainable practices that are built upon the solid foundation of scientific evidence. Not only will this fund help build a sound basis for management, but it will hopefully also help foster closer collaboration between scientists from many different nations,” said Dr Phil Trathan, Chair of the AWR Science Advisory Group in a press release.
On March 16, 2015 2015 AWR issued its first call for proposals, inviting applications from scientific researchers who can aid in determining the impact of the krill fishing industry on the Antarctic marine ecosystem. The research will serve to ensure ecosystem protection, while improving the management basis for the fishery. The call for proposals will close June 16, 2015.

"The establishment of the Antarctic Wildlife Research Fund is an opportunity to continue monitoring the impacts of krill fishing and to conduct further ecological research on this important species,” said Bob Zuur, Manager of WWF’s Antarctic program in the press release announcing the establishment of the Antarctic Wildlife Research Fund.
The science advisory group will identify and prioritise the research to be conducted. In turn, AWR will grant research funding and publish the research. The independent scientific experts and their data will fill the critical gaps in research and monitoring.

This data is not only meant for the fisheries, but also to raise awareness through the general public. AWR will have several campaigns to increase the general knowledge on krill as a key part of the Antarctic ecosystem and the importance of sustainable krill fishery. Therefore a separate website and social media channels have been established to ensure that the message reaches the general public.

"The creation of the Antarctic Wildlife Research Fund is crucial to expanding our knowledge of krill in the Southern Ocean. Through the work of the AWR, we hope to ensure that adequate protections and management are put in place, and a healthy ecosystem is kept in place not just for krill, but for all of the Antarctic species which depend on it," said Mark Epstein, AWR Chair and Executive Director of The Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition in a press release.
  “Such collaborations, including with NGOs and industry, are critical if we are to tackle some of the real challenges that face us in managing marine ecosystems as they cope with the combined pressures of climate change and increasing human demands. This fund should be an exemplar for other industries elsewhere in the world," concluded Dr Phil Trathan, Chair of the AWR Science Advisory Group in the release to the media.

The Science advisory group consists of: 
  • Dr Phil Trathan, Chair, British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge, UK
  • Dr Polly Penhale, National Science Foundations, US
  • Dr Javier Arata, Instituto Antárctico, Chile, CCAMLR
  • Dr Gennadi Milinevsky, National University of Kiev, Ukraine
  • Dr Taro Ichii, National Research Institute. of Far Sea Fisheries, Japan
  • Dr Andrew Lowther, Norwegian Polar Institute, Norway
  • Dr Slava Bizikov, Russian Federal Research Institute of Fisheries, Russia
  • Dr So Kawaguchi, Australian Antarctic Division, Tasmania, Australia
  • Scientific Advisor to the AWR is Dr Rodolfo Werner, who is a Senior Advisor to The Pew Charitable Trusts and ASOC – The Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition

Read the magazine HERE.

The Aquaculturists
This blog is maintained by The Aquaculturists staff and is supported by the
magazine International Aquafeed which is published by
Perendale Publishers Ltd

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