CCAMLR’s use of the ecosystem approach:
6 October 2006
Questions from Dr John Davis, editor MPA News.
Reply by Jon Nevill, +61 422 926 515, University of Tasmania.
1. What have been some of the successes so far in CCAMLR’s ecosystem approach to
management? What aspects of the ecosystem approach have not been successfully
The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) has
24 member States (www.ccamlr.org) active in research and fishing activities, as well as 10
parties without voting rights. The 1980 Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine
Living Resources (the Convention) makes an explicit reference to conservation as its primary
objective. This objective (supported by directions under the Convention to apply the
ecosystem approach) established CCAMLR as the world‟s first regional ocean conservation
organisation, as opposed to the more widespread sectorally-focused regional fishery
management organisations (RFMOs). CCAMLR is widely held as the most effective regional
fishery body globally. Even given its different objective, its performance can be compared
with that of RFMOs. Article 2 of the Convention states:
The objective of this Convention is the conservation of Antarctic marine living
resources. For the purposes of this Convention, the term ‘conservation’
includes rational use.
As a consequence of the Convention‟s objective, the whole of the Area of Competence of
CCAMLR, vast as it is, meets the IUCN criteria for a class IV protected area, setting aside for
a moment the issue of non-member State fishing.
The Antarctic and sub-Antarctic regions have had a history of unsustainable exploitation,
notably of whales, seals, and marbled rockcod (Notothenia rossii). Whales are managed by
International Whaling Commission (IWC) under the 1946 International Convention for the
Regulation of Whaling, and seals are managed under the 1972 Convention for the
Conservation of Antarctic Seals. Both of these management frameworks pre-date the
There are currently significant commercial fisheries in the CCAMLR area for krill, icefish and
toothfish. Of these, the krill fishery is currently fished at levels well below estimated
sustainable yields, and icefish fisheries are fully exploited. However, the estimated total
catch of toothfish in CCAMLR waters is higher than the aggregate total allowable catch
(TAC) established by CCAMLR. There are high levels of compliance with CCAMLR
conservation measures for toothfish fisheries by CCAMLR member States, but this is
undermined by ongoing and probably unsustainable levels of illegal, unreported or
unregulated (IUU) fishing.
IUU fishing is predominately carried out by vessels operating under flags of convenience,
technically non-member States – and, although accurate catch estimates are not available,
IUU fishing is thought to account for an annual catch roughly equal to the legitimate harvest
by permitted vessels operating under flags of CCAMLR member States.
According to Larkin (1996) the essential elements of ecosystem-based management (EBM)
sustainable yield in managed fisheries;
maintenance of ecosystem biodiversity; and
protection from habitat degradation and pollution.
Assessed by Larkin‟s three criteria, CCAMLR has maintained the krill fishery at levels below
which sustainability is threatened, and has done its best to restrict toothfish and icefish
Insufficient data on ecosystem biodiversity are available from the Southern Ocean to
evaluate Larkin‟s second criteria ; however biodiversity impacts since CCAMLR‟s inception
are likely to be limited to local damage to ecosystems where excessive exploitation of
toothfish has occurred, and seabird bycatch from IUU toothfish and icefish fisheries, that, in
combination with longline fisheries to the north of the CCAMLR area, is threatening the
existance of some seabird populations and species.
With respect to the third criteria, the key identified risk for habitat destruction arises from
bottom trawling. CCAMLR has issued only one exploratory permit for deep water trawling in
the last year, and a prohibition applies to trawling in waters less than 550 m in depth. The
potential damage to benthic environments so far may be relatively low, even given continued
IUU fishing by non-member States, and deep-water trawling for marbled rockcod in some
areas in the 1970s. However this issue merits further investigation.
Pollution impacts (putting aside global carbon dioxide issues) have had negligible local and
no regional impacts of any significance. The main potential sources of pollution in the
CCAMLR area are derived from Antarctic research bases, supply vessels, tourist vessels
and fishing vessels. Except for IUU fishing vessels stringent pollution management
measures have been implemented under the provisions of the Antarctic Treaty, MARPOL
73/78 and CCAMLR .
Ecosystem-based management approaches have received much attention since Larkin‟s
paper was published in 1996, and his description of the main elements is now seen as
simplistic. Pikitch et al (2004) provide a more comprehensive discussion in which they
describe the main elements extending Larkin‟s view as:
a) avoidance of activities with an unacceptable risk of causing irreversible ecosystem
b) explicit use of precaution in setting harvest levels;
c) harvesting plans should rest within larger ecosystem protection plans;
d) adaptive approaches to monitoring, management and research, including explicit
programs to monitor ecosystem health using ecosystem-based reference points;
e) ocean zoning, including both temporary and permanent area closures to protect
vulnerable habitats, critical habitats of commercial or endangered species, and
ecological processes; and
f) explicit and effective bycatch reduction programs within fisheries.
All of these elements are, or are being, addressed within the CCAMLR management
In relation to point (a), CCAMLR has adopted an explicit policy that no activity will be
permitted within the management framework which may have an effect which would not be
reversible within 30 years (Constable et al 2000, also Article 3 of the Convention). Such a
policy, for example, would appear to preclude deep-sea bottom trawling over vulnerable and
fragile benthic habitat, where damaged habitat, particularly deep-sea corals, is known to
recover extremely slowly.
In relation to point (b), although the Convention does not make a specific reference to the
use of precaution, after early failures in controlling the marbled rockcod fishery within
sustainable limits, CCAMLR adopted a precautionary approach to harvest management
which, for example, uses predetermined decision rules relating to target and reference points
(Constable 2006; Constable et al. 2000; Kock 2000). CCAMLR now sees precaution as an
essential element of its ecosystem approach. FAO recently surveyed implementation of its
Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. Of the responding regional organisations,
CCAMLR was one of only two organisations able to name a precautionary approach under
implementation (FAO 2005).
In relation to point (c), CCAMLR has developed single-species harvest models resting within
simplified multi-species ecosystem models (Constable et al. 2000). CCAMLR has also
adopted a philosophy of target reference points explicitly designed to allow for trophic
interactions. For example, CCAMLR uses a target reference point for krill, toothfish and
icefish of 75% of original biomass, on the argument that the traditional 50% reference point
would not provide, in the absence of good information on the workings of the ecosystem,
sufficient allowance for predators of the fished population (Constable 2006). This contrasts
sharply with the equivalent target reference point currently in use in Australia and New
Zealand of 30%.
In relation to point (d), CCAMLR has adopted specific requirements that member States
seek permits for exploratory fisheries, and that the issue of such permits carries conditions
requiring the collection of core data on catch and bycatch necessary for later ecosystem
modelling studies (Constable et al. 2000, Constable 2006). At present, all CCAMLR finfish
permits require observers ; krill permits at present do not. CCAMLR has also established an
ecosystem monitoring program (Agnew 1997, Constable 2002), which seeks to monitor the
health of large ecosystems partly by measuring the health of accessible animal colonies,
such as seals and penguins. The program also seeks information on ecosystem function and
In relation to point (e), CCAMLR has (for more than 15 years) used closed areas or closed
fishing seasons to protect habitat or species – under Article IX of the Convention (D. Miller,
pers. comm. 4/10/2006). These are relatively small areas. CCAMLR is also developing
management zoning based on “small scale management units” to take account of local and
regional variation in ecosystem populations and processes (Constable 2006). These are
essential to the effective application of fishery management harvest controls. CCAMLR has
also adopted a long-term program, which aims to establish a comprehensive, adequate and
representative network of marine protected areas (MPAs), partly to protect critical and
vulnerable habitats. At this stage bioregionalisation of the CCAMLR area is being undertaken
(CCAMLR 2006) to provide a scientific basis for the ultimate development of the MPA
network. Given the ambitious nature of CCAMLR‟s strategy, it will be several (perhaps many)
years before substantial permanent MPAs are established (see further comment below).
In relation to point (f), CCAMLR‟s member States have funded both research and operational
programs aimed at reducing seabird bycatch (Robertson 2000) and conditions have been
placed on member State fishing permits requiring longliners to take a variety of actions to
reduce or eliminate seabird capture (Constable 2006). Elasmobranchs (primarily skates and
rays) are also of concern, and will be subject to ongoing study and controls. Both catch limits
and „move on‟ rules apply to all finfish permits in an effort to reduce bycatch (Constable
2006). Regrettably, major seabird bycatch continues north the Area of Competence for
CCAMLR and by IUU fishing vessels operating within the CCAMLR area.
With regard to the question of „which aspects of EBM have not yet been successfully
implemented?‟ – there are two major issues. While compliance monitoring and enforcement
are requirements in all fisheries, not just EBM fisheries, IUU fishing by non-member States
remains a scourge in the CCAMLR area. In this regard, CCAMLR needs a major change to
international law which would allow it sole accreditation rights over all fishing activities – so
in the present circumstances better enforcement would solve only part of the problem.
Secondly, CCAMLR‟s MPA program is in a developmental phase and, as indicated above
and below, may take several years to progress to an implementation phase.
2. What is the role of MPAs within CCAMLR’s overall ecosystem approach to
management? Are MPAs necessary for CCAMLR’s ecosystem-based management to
be successful, or could the management be successful without MPAs?
While MPAs currently form a small but necessary part of CCAMLR‟s ecosystem approach
(see above), the importance of MPAs is likely to expand considerably in coming years. The
speed of CCAMLR‟s MPA program depends critically on a small number of member States
adopting a more progressive attitude to MPA development. The development of marine
protected areas as precautionary fishery management tools has been discussed by a
number of authors (see for example Bohnsack 1999, Carr & Raimondi 1999, Ward & Hegerl
2003, Hilborn et al. 2004) and, according to Pikitch et al. (2004), no-take areas form an
important element in marine EBM. In the long term, a network of MPAs may well be seen as
a critical component of CCAMLR‟s overall program, essential to the success of wider
ecosystem management strategies.
The Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary generally provides an equivalent protection level to
that of a MPA for large whale species, except in regard to the issue of the capture of whales
for scientific purposes – a major loophole. The Sanctuary was established in 1994 by the
IWC and largely overlaps the CCAMLR area. Although CCAMLR generally allows the IWC
primary carriage in the conservation of whale populations, CCAMLR retains an active
interest in the role played by whales in the Southern Ocean ecosystem. Japan currently
conducts lethal research activities in the Southern Ocean on minke whales and endangered
fin whales – under a scientific permit. Japan continues to kill whales in the waters of the
Sanctuary, where scientific research on whales is permitted under IWC arrangements.
Japan, although a member of the IWC, would not be bound to observe the restrictions of the
Sanctuary should commercial whaling recommence, as it registered an objection (specifically
regarding minke whales) at the time the IWC created the Sanctuary.
3. Antarctica is unique in that it is a continent managed under a multi-party Treaty.
CCAMLR is unusual as an RFMO in that its primary focus is on conservation. Does
the international nature of its management make the implementation of the ecosystem
approach easier or harder than it would be if implemented within the boundaries of a
Probably easier. Nation States with major ocean borders inevitably harbour a significant
fishing industry, and history has shown that States have often not been successful in
implementing sustainable fishing regimes, not least due to the political influence of the
fishing industry in coastal electorates, and the subsequent skewing of fishery management
decisions towards short-term objectives.
The Antarctic Treaty is underpinned by principles fostering peace, cooperation between
nations, and scientific study. These principles, and the cooperative culture of the Treaty have
generally been reflected in the deliberations of CCAMLR.
CCAMLR arrives at management decisions by consensus. Within this decision-making
framework, there are three avenues for member States to express reservations about the
direction of CCAMLR programs. The first is the Chairman‟s Statement, which has been used
many times to record divergent opinions. The second (stronger) avenue is the opt-out
provision, where a member State can formally opt-out from a management measure. This
has only been used twice during the lifetime of CCAMLR. The third (strongest) avenue is the
formal dispute resolution procedure laid down by the Convention. This has never been used.
By and large, the consensus decision-making framework has so far proved effective,
reflecting a culture of cooperation between member States.
An important factor contributing to this successful aspect of CCAMLR‟s operations is the
overall value of the Southern Ocean fishery, which, at present, is relatively small compared
with other major global fisheries.
My thanks to Denzil Miller, Jonathon Barrigton, Andrew Constable and Nick Gales for
constructive comment. The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily
widely held by either CCAMLR‟s supporters or its critics.
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This is my personal view and is not shared by many people associated with CCAMLR –
who prefer to label the organisation simply as a progressive RFMO.
Gislason et al. (2000) provide a framework to assess biodiversity impacts. They suggest
that EBM should incorporate six ecosystem objectives. These are the maintenance of: (1)
ecosystem diversity, (2) species diversity, (3) genetic variability within species, (4) directly
impacted species, (5) ecologically dependent species, and (6) trophic level balance.
For example prohibitions on dumping at high latitudes, and ice-strengthening requirements
(in CCAMLR conservation measures and resolutions) (D. Miller, pers. comm. 4/10/2006).
Rockcod fishing was a major problem before CCAMLR came into existance. Rockcod was
the first species for which CCAMLR prohibited directed fishing.
Note that in some areas (e.g. crabs in Subarea 48.3 and Toothfish in Area 88 in general)
CCAMLR has also instituted a research approach to fishing which spreads and minimises
risk in respect to exploratory fisheries, as well as providing a systematic way of improving
scientific knowledge (D. Miller, pers. comm. 4/10/2006).
CCAMLR finfish fisheries don't just require observers, they require observers appointed
under the CCAMLR Observer Scheme which means they have carefully delineated and
standardized functions and are not nationals of the flag of the vessel on which they serve (D.
Miller, pers. comm. 4/10/2006).
The CCAMLR Ecosystem Monitoring Programme (CEMP) does not only attempt to get
some from of assessment of "ecosystem health", it is also trying to get information on key
parameters (indicators) which could be used to improve knowledge of ecosystem
functionality as well as attempting to discriminate between natural variability and human
induced changes (especially from harvesting activities) (D. Miller, pers. comm. 4/10/2006).
Seabird mitigation is one of CCAMLR's big successes. It has led to dramatic decreases in
incidental seabird mortality in the legitimate longline fisheries and has offered a model to the
world (e.g. the FAO Plan of Action relating to seabird incidental mortality has much to thank
CCAMLR for in terms of philosophy and procedure) (D. Miller, pers. comm. 4/10/2006).
In effect, CCAMLR, and other RFMOs around the world, need removal of the „freedom of
the high seas‟ to function effectively (see for example Constable 2006). While the need for
this change has been widely recognised amongst legitimate fishing companies and marine
managers, immediate amendment of the Law of the Sea are very unlikely due to the
conservative nature of international politics.
Russia, Ukraine, Japan, Korea and Norway have all opposed CCAMLR MPA development
in previous years.