Chinese krill processing ship Shen Lan in Antarctica, photographed by marine campaigners in March 2023
Environmental groups Bob Brown Foundation (BBF) and Sea Shepherd are calling for krill fishing to be outlawed after filming so-called “fish factory” supertrawlers from China, Chile and South Korea trawling right through a megapod of over 100 fin whales. The environmental groups, which have a long history of working together to successfully shut down whaling in the Southern Ocean, are focusing their efforts on the heavily concentrated krill fishing around the South Orkney Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula.
In a media release, BBF Antarctic campaigner Alistair Allan says that the supertrawlers “made no effort to avoid the megapod of vulnerable fin whales,” appearing instead to deliberately trawl through them, knowing that where there are whales, there is krill. Forming the bedrock of the entire Antarctic ecosystem, krill is the primary food source for baleen whales and penguins, with most marine life in Antarctica either directly or indirectly dependent on the small shrimp-like crustacean. Krill is fished for products such as fish farm feed, pet food and health supplements.
The growing conflict between whales and the fishery has already been documented, with a February 2023 Stanford University study revealing four large fishing vessels trawling through a supergroup of over 1,000 fin whales chasing the same krill. In addition to the whale supergroup, the study authors’ video captured two humpback whales, a blue whale, Antarctic fur seals, and thousands of seabirds.
The Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic and Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which is part of the Antarctic Treaty System, designates protected areas and sets catch limits. As such, the supertrawlers are operating legally in an area near the South Orkney Islands that is a designated Antarctic krill fishery under CCAMLR rules. In 2021, more than 370,000 tonnes of krill were caught, down from just over 450,000 tonnes caught in 2020. With the CCAMLR meeting this October to discuss the potential of raising the catch limit, the Bob Brown Foundation and Sea Shepherd are calling on delegates to vote against an increase in krill fishing.
“Krill is the foundation of the Antarctic ecosystem,” says Alistair Allan. “They deserve total protection, not supertrawlers hoovering them out of the ocean.”
Find out more here.
Krill, the bedrock of the entire Antarctic ecosystem
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