QUITO – The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources is studying the creation of large-scale marine protected areas along the southernmost continent of the planet, its executive secretary said Tuesday.
“In Antarctica, we are now debating the creation of large-scale marine protected areas to protect them from climate change and to ensure that Antarctic ecosystems are preserved in a sustainable manner,” David Agnew said in an interview with EFE at the Ecuadorian foreign ministry’s headquarters in Quito.
Visiting the Andean country, which aspires to join the Commission in the near future, Agnew tried to settle the criticism leveled at the CCAMLR for having failed last year – the seventh in a row – to adopt a broad resolution to protect the Southern Ocean and for not being able to reach a consensus on protected areas, climate change or transshipment of fish at sea.
The head of the international body, currently consisting of 24 countries and the European Union, noted that “throughout the history of CCAMLR we have constantly faced the challenge of consensus,” alluding to the fact that resolutions must be adopted unanimously.
He added that the creation of the first maritime protected area in the Ross Sea, in the Antarctic Ocean, considered the world’s largest reserve with nearly 2 million square kilometers, had required six years of deliberations.
Among the projects that have not yet been approved by the organization is the creation of a protected area in the Weddell Sea, proposed by Germany and supported by the EU, which would cover 1.8 million square kilometers (695,000 square miles) free of industrial fishing vessels and other threats.
In this regard, Agnew acknowledged that the Antarctic Peninsula and the Antarctic Sea were the two most important areas under scrutiny at the moment and that researchers have been analyzing them for four years, but he was cautious in predicting a forthcoming agreement.
“My vision is that you can’t expect this to happen immediately, but I hope it will come soon, under my mandate,” which expires in 2022.
CCAMLR was instituted in 1982 by an international convention that ordered it to protect the Antarctic marine fauna and flora.
Despite the observations of numerous NGOs, including Greenpeace, which accuse the multilateral body of not fulfilling its commitments, its executive secretary claims that these organizations “know that we have always developed high-level protocols for the catching of fish and that our requirements for fishing are very high.”
As an example, he said that for each vessel that operates in the area under the protection of the Commission there is an obligation for an observer to be on board, which is not the case under other fishing organizations rules.
However, despite being criticized for “not making rapid progress” in its commitments, he said that during the past 38 years the agency has always promoted sustainable fishing.
The lack of a resolution to improve the transshipment of fish – a practice in which fishing vessels offload their catch to refrigerated cargo ships at sea in order to prevent illegal or unsupervised catches, following an initiative proposed by the United States – was also a source of discontent.
“I also hope that from the point of view of good transshipment management, a regulation will be adopted soon, but we do not believe that there is much illegal fishing” in Antarctic waters, Agnew said.
According to the senior official, the fact that there are observers on each vessel prevents illegal practices.
The Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Resources is an international agreement signed in the Australian capital, Canberra, in 1980, which entered into force in 1982 as part of the Antarctic Treaty System.
It regulates fishing for Southern Ocean species, especially Patagonian toothfish (better known as deep-sea cod), crab and krill.
The total yearly cod catch in the Antarctic is currently around 15,000 tons, while the krill catch is around 350,000 tons, Agnew said.
Regarding krill, a fundamental component in the food chain of ocean ecosystems, he underscored its “great potential” while warning that this resource must be “well managed and conserved” in order not to damage the Antarctic ecosystem, since virtually all animals depend on krill for sustenance.