Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CAMLR Convention)

Conserving marine life and utilising it prudently

The world’s oceans are increasingly under threat. Overfishing, pollution and global climate change, among other factors, have been driving significant deterioration of the marine environment for decades. The Antarctic Ocean is one of the last to be relatively unaffected. The Parties to the Antarctic Treaty acted to protect this ocean relatively early on with the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CAMLR Convention), which entered into force in 1982. As the name indicates, the primary goal is to preserve the marine fauna and flora found in and around Antarctica. What makes the Convention so important is that it is the first international agreement to base its scope of application on an ecosystem, taking into account the elements that make up that ecosystem and the geographical area that it covers.

The northern boundary of the Convention Area is formed by the Antarctic Convergence, also known as the Antarctic polar front. This is a transitional zone within the ocean which separates the colder Antarctic waters from the sub-Antarctic waters further north. It acts as a natural barrier for many Antarctic species, preventing them from spreading northwards. The CAMLR Convention stipulates that the marine living resources of Antarctica include the populations of all species of living creatures which are found south of the Convergence. As well as individual species, the Convention takes into consideration the complex relationships between the species and their environment. Whales and seals are species that must be given due consideration in decisions by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), but they are not managed by CCAMLR because they are covered by other agreements: the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (IRCW), managed by the International Whaling Commission (IWC), and the International Convention for the Conservation of Arctic Seals (CCAS).

Approaching the ecosystem as a whole for the first time

The CAMLR Convention was designed as a protective convention and is the first international agreement to set out an ecosystem-based approach as well as a precautionary approach to the utilisation of living resources. Its stated goal is to conserve the marine living resources of Antarctica, although it notes that conservation includes “rational use” of these resources. This ecosystem-based approach is enshrined in three obligations relating to fishing (Article II (3)). The first obligation is for fishing to be conducted in such a way that the harvested populations are maintained at a healthy level and enough young can be produced. The second obligation is to maintain the relationships between the ecosystems being utilised and the dependent or related ecosystems. In addition, fishing must be restricted to a level at which previously depleted populations can recover. The third obligation, meanwhile, is to prevent all changes to the Antarctic ecosystem that cannot potentially be reversed within two or three decades.

A Commission to regulate fishing

The extent to which an ecosystem-based approach of this kind can be implemented, if at all, is partly dependent on the quality of the data concerning the various ecosystems and species. The Convention therefore contains comprehensive, detailed provisions governing data collection and reporting. CCAMLR has also undertaken to apply the precautionary principle to its decision-making and to take into account the best available scientific knowledge. Both undertakings are binding obligations for the Contracting Parties as well as the various institutions that exist under the umbrella of the Convention. These include the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which is responsible for establishing fishing regulations and protective measures, a Scientific Committee (including a number of working groups on different issues) that advises the Commission, and a Secretariat that serves both bodies. All of CCAMLR’s decisions are reached by consensus between the Parties, in the same way as for the Antarctic Treaty. Countries that wish to research or utilise the marine living resources of Antarctica can join the CAMLR Convention. With regard to claims to territorial sovereignty in Antarctica, the Convention draws on the legal provisions of Article IV of the Antarctic Treaty. The Parties have also reached agreements to take into account the existence of recognised sovereignty and maritime jurisdiction within the Convention Area north of 60  South latitude.

Internationally, CCAMLR plays a major role in the complex task of implementing ecosystem management in the form of practical measures. This primarily involves developing a precautionary, risk-based system of fishing management which enables sustainable utilisation of fish stocks. CCAMLR is also a pioneer when it comes to bringing researchers and political representatives together to find solutions to harmful fishing practices. These include the incidental mortality of seabirds arising from fishing as well as illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

In order to do justice to the protective role of the CAMLR Convention and to reach the aims that it sets out, CCAMLR has also undertaken to identify representative network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) within the Convention Area. Two MPAs have come into effect to date, covering the South Orkney Islands southern shelf and the Ross Sea region. Applications have been submitted for the establishment of further MPAs in Eastern Antarctica, the Weddell Sea and the Antarctic Peninsula, but no consensus has yet been reached.