Six Supertrawlers in Antarctica Fishing for Krill Near Proposed Marine Park

donderdag, 25 Jan, 2024

On the 20th of January 2024, the Sea Shepherd ship Allankay arrived off Penguin Point, the northwestern extremity of Coronation Island, an Antarctic Specially Protected Area where six supertrawlers were discovered dragging massive nets to capture krill, a small crustacean that is a foundation species of the Antarctic ecosystem and the primary food source for fin and humpback whales.

An industrial krill fishing vessel with its nets in the same Antarctic waters where whales are feeding. Photo Youenn Kerdavid/Sea Shepherd.

The industrialized supertrawlers—each one as large as two Olympic-sized swimming pools—were filmed plowing through a feeding frenzy of hundreds of whales while waddles of chinstrap penguins looked on from surrounding icebergs.

The crew on board Allankay observed a significant increase in the number of whales sighted compared to the 2023 encounter when Sea Shepherd crew documented eight supertrawlers dangerously fishing among pods of whales. Scientists from Stanford University are concerned about this rise in sightings, pointing to an escalating conflict as recovering whale populations, rebounding from the era of commercial whaling, now face competition from an expanding industrial krill fishery. That documentation helped to ensure that the krill quota was not increased for this year.

Sea Shepherd crew use the small boat to get a closer look at one of the krill fishing vessels. Photo Youenn Kerdavid/Sea Shepherd.

“In the Mediterranean Sea and off the Atlantic Seaboard, speed limits have been introduced to reduce whale deaths from ship strikes by merchant vessels. It boggles the mind that here, in such a sensitive and vulnerable sea area, there is no law preventing fishing vessels from dragging their fishing nets right through megapods of whales, targeting their very food source as whales spout right in front of the bows of ships as long as a 30-story tall building laying on its side.”

Captain Bart Schulting, from the bridge of the Allankay.
Part of the industrial krill fishing fleet in Antartica, fishing in a proposed marine protection area. Photo Mika van der Gun/Sea Shepherd.

Coronation Island is the largest of the South Orkney Islands, critical habitat for seals and seabirds, especially chinstrap and Adelie penguins. Over the past forty years, chinstrap penguin populations have fallen by as much as 53%. They rely mainly on krill for food.

To protect the penguins, Argentina and Chile have proposed a marine protected area (MPA) that covers waters off the eastern coast of Coronation Island, where they hunt and feed on krill. Plans for the MPA were presented in 2018 to the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Living Resources (CCAMLR), the intergovernmental body responsible for the conservation of marine wildlife in the Southern Ocean, but each attempt at creating the no-take fishing zone has been blocked by two CCAMLR member states, the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation. CCAMLR is holding a special meeting to discuss the creation of new MPAs later this year.

Now that the Sea Shepherd vessel has arrived in the Antarctic, the crew on board Allankay will continue to track and shadow the krill fishing fleet, focusing particularly on their impact on marine wildlife in proposed marine protected areas (MPAs). Sea Shepherd's vigilant presence has not gone unnoticed. The Ukrainian supertrawler, More Sodruzhedtva, quickly retracted its nets upon spotting the Allankay. It then took a dangerous turn, steering directly towards the Sea Shepherd vessel, prompting the crew to perform swift evasive maneuvers to prevent a collision.

An Aker Biomarine vessel from Norway spewing hot liquid from krill processing back into the Antarctic waters. Photo Youenn Kerdavid/Sea Shepherd.

Crew from fourteen nationalities are represented on board Allankay: The Netherlands, Australia, Spain, United States, Czech Republic, South Africa, Belgium, Ireland, Canada, Germany, Israel, France, the United Kingdom and Switzerland.

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Aker Biomarine's massive 130-meter vessel fishing for krill next to onlooking penguins. Photo Youenn Kerdavid/Sea Shepherd.