The 2022 meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) was held from 24 October to 4 November at the Commission headquarters in Hobart. This was the first meeting for Ecuador as a member of the Commission. Ecuador’s admission brings the total number of Commission members to 27.
CCAMLR was established by treaty in 1982 to conserve the marine living resources of the Southern Ocean. The Convention sets down certain principles of conservation and from the outset firmly established CCAMLR as a leader in ecosystems-based management. However, the stated objective of the Convention, the conservation of Antarctic marine living resources with conservation explicitly defined to include rational use, has generated conflict between members over how to reconcile environmental protection goals with commercial harvesting. This underlying tension contributes to the difficulty in making decisions on issues such as a representative system of marine protected areas (MPAs).
The Commission is required to give effect to its conservation objective and principles through the adoption of conservation measures based upon best available science. Unfortunately, the question of what constitutes ‘best available science’ has become politicised, further limiting the ability of the Commission to adopt and revise conservation measures in a timely fashion. Following this year’s Commission meeting, the United States issued a statement expressing ‘serious concern’ over Russia’s’ rejection of scientific information presented on a range of key topics including climate change, MPAs, vulnerable marine ecosystems and fisheries research and management (US Department of State Media Note, 4 November 2022).
Despite these challenges, the Commission hosted significant discussions and made progress in several important areas. This year the Commission discussed a revised approach to managing the krill fishery, considering the abundance and distribution of krill and impacts upon predators, and taking a holistic approach to management of marine resources around the Antarctic Peninsula. Several new areas were added to the list of Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VMEs), providing protection for these areas from bottom fishing gear, although a proposal to protect a newly discovered nesting ground for icefish, the largest known example of such a site, did not reach consensus. New protocols for data collection should support improved understanding of causal factors and mitigation in relation to marine mammal bycatch, thereby strengthening CCAMLR’s already highly regarded work in bycatch mitigation.
Despite the understandable frustration of many members and observers on the inability of the Commission to agree to establish new MPAs, some progress was made at the 2022 meeting. CCAMLR established the world’s first high seas MPA in 2009, the South Orkney Islands Southern Shelf Marine Protected Area, followed by the Ross Sea MPA in 2017. This year the Commission agreed to hold a Special Meeting of the Commission in 2023, only the third such meeting in CCAMLR’s history. Hopefully the initiative will allow the Commission to move past the current stalemate and to progress implementation of a representative system of MPAs.
Also of note was the adoption by the Commission of a new Resolution on climate change. The meeting agreed that CCAMLR scientific working groups must include consideration of the impact of climate change and environmental change in their advice to the Commission. Hopefully this step will support the embedding of climate change considerations into all future decision-making by the Commission.