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Norway determined to have its share of Antarctic fisheries

Sunday, February 3rd 2008 - 20:00 UTC
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Knowledge of the Antarctic ecosystem is still very limited, but what is known is that krill is a key species. (Photo: IMR/CCMLR) Knowledge of the Antarctic ecosystem is still very limited, but what is known is that krill is a key species. (Photo: IMR/CCMLR)

It had always been technically difficult to harvest the abundant valuable krill known to populate the ocean waters around Antarctica and preserve their quality in the process. In recently breaking in a new trawling technology, however, Norwegian company Aker Biomarine ASA has made the feat suddenly possible.

The harvesting of Patagonian toothfish, in turn, has gone on for many years. A slow-growing, deepwater species, the fish is not expected to ever develop into a lucrative fishery for vessels other than the few permitted to participate. After all, other fish stocks and marine life resources are known to concentrate in the waters of the Antarctic, ready for the commercial taking. Little of the potential of these stocks, however, has been scientifically studied and documented - until now. The state-of-the-art marine research vessel G.O. from Norway is right now undertaking an extensive research cruise of Antarctica's marine resources. In recent days, the Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg also visited Antarctica, although little was officially said of its marine resources. Both of these events should be seen as subtle, tell-tale signs that Norway is rushing to build a solid case for rights to the Antarctic resource. Only four Norwegian vessels are currently licenced to fish for krill in Antarctic waters; only one of these is operative, the others are being re-furbished for the activity. It is clear that the Scandinavian country is picking up where it had left off when the Antarctic whaling era came to an end, and is now eyeing other resources. One Norwegian longliner, the Frøyanes, had in recent years made a tidy profit fishing Patagonian toothfish. After topping the Norwegian quota for the fish recently, a UK company contracted it to fish a British quota in South Georgia, in addition to its own cod and haddock quota in the Barents Sea. Although Norway keeps a toothfish quota in the Ross Sea, it does not keep any kind of quota in South Georgia. However, in view of the higher presence of Norwegian researchers and vessels in Antarctica of late, only the very naive will be caught off-guard if and when Norway issues a sudden call for a larger share of TAC pertaining to any, several, or all Antarctic species. Norway is but one of the countries claiming a significant tract of Antarctica. For years the strength of its claim fell by the wayside as the Japanese and Russians actively harvested for krill, and the Argentines, Chileans, Uruguayans and other nationalities partook in the lion's share of the toothfish fishery. The tide has changed, however. The country's recent encroachments into the globe's southernmost waters strongly signal a new approach. The Marine Research Institute of Bergen, Norway explained the reasons behind the ongoing research excursion: "The Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) is responsible for the management of marine resources in the Southern Ocean. Our knowledge of the ecosystem in this part of the sea is currently very limited. However, we do know that krill are a key species in the ecosystem, and that the annual catch quota of 4 million tonnes of krill set by the CCAMLR is intended to ensure that this fishery will in no way compete with other species that depend on krill. "CCAMLR intends to allocate krill fisheries in parts of the Southern Ocean where their predators do not graze. However, before we can do so, we require much more knowledge about the ecosystem, the krill itself and the species that live off it. While we wait for such knowledge to be collected, an 'effort limit' of 620,000 tonnes has been set, which is to say that until we possess more knowledge, fishing will be stopped when this limit has been reached. "This is why the Institute of Marine Research has taken the initiative of sending the R/V G.O. Sarsto study the Antarctic ecosystem. The pelagic resources around the Norwegian Bouvet Island have never been investigated, and in winter 2008, the Institute will carry out its first studies of physical conditions, marine resources, including krill, and the pelagic resources of this region." The continent and its surrounding marine resources are quickly turning into a much-desired, hot spot. Not only have companies begun to vie for a cut of the Antarctic's valuable resources, governments too have secretly begun to draw up plans, anticipate each other's moves, and tighten up their claims. At stake is the right to harvest krill and other lucrative bounty of the last unexplored continent. FIS.com had earlier focused on a recent krill harvesting cooperative deal struck between Dutch and Norwegian companies. To recap, only four krill fishing licences were issued to Norwegian vessels, leaving several companies with high expectations and hopeful business plans out in the cold. A successful push and a call for licences issued from other countries may arise as Norway's Antarctic activities raise enough eyebrows to warrant a mad rush to lay or solidify claims to fishing rights, whether historically-founded or not. Still, little is actually known about the resource. When the G.O. Sarsfinally returns to Norway from its long November 2007 to March 2008 research cruise in the Antarctic, it might bring with it information of a calibre to trigger a claiming war. (FIS).-

Categories: Antarctica, International.

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