Leave the krill for the whales

Did you see Hugh’s Fish Fight last night? I don’t always watch it but I did yesterday as I saw it was about South Georgia and that’s been a subject which I have covered in this blog (here and here).

South Georgia is a long way away from here but is a UK Overseas Territory thanks to Captain Cook coming across it in 1775.  I’m glad it is aligned with the UK but I’d have to admit it’s a bit of a fluke and a bit odd.  However, we now know that this UKOT is one of the richest marine areas anywhere on the planet for wildlife – which comes as a bit of a surprise, but can’t be totally unrelated to the fact that it is a remote distant place whose seas haven’t been trawled and fished intensively.

Everything (almost everything) in that part of the world feeds on krill – the penguins, the seals, the whales and the albatrosses (either directly or indirectly) and now factory ships are hoovering up krill for fish meal to feed to farmed salmon and for krill oil to make us feel healthy.  How many penguins starve to put cheap pink farmed salmon on your plate?

Hugh F-W made the point very well, I thought.  Why don’t we just do something amazing and stop fishing in the Exclusive Economic Zone around South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (and Pitcairn, and the Falklands, and Ascension Island…)?  The economic cost is tiny – the feeling of moral smugness is immense – and the protection of marine biodiversity is a lasting and meaningful legacy.

And, it has to be said, it’s not as though Defra is doing a remotely adequate job closer to our own shores where its miserable record in protecting the best parts of our marine environment is embarrassing.

I’m looking forward to Monday’s march across Westminster Bridge to demand that our government designates a full suite of marine protected areas around our coasts.



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7 Replies to “Leave the krill for the whales”

  1. Mark

    Completely agree - our track record on fishing in the Antarctic has not been great -

    Great whales - fished to the point of extinction
    Fur seals - same
    Toothfish - heavily over fished (although some progress)

    What is left -

    Krill - going by the track record so far.............

    The story is clear - fish it to the point of collapse then put in management that may recover part of the original population. Can we really afford to do this to the animal that support the entire ecosystem? We could loose everything......


  2. As you say, of course we should be protecting this area, it is home to probably around 100 million seabirds, whales seals etc. Krill is the basis of all this life and it is declining. Why are we fishing it?

    What is most interesting is between 40 and 44 minutes into the programme, when Hugh asks two penguin scientists about whether they would be in favour of a marine reserve. It is very evident from the film that they didn't feel free to talk about that. Why not? And why wouldn't they say "yes"? It seems pretty clear from their reaction to the question that the Government had told them to support the official line or face problems.

    So when the Government says policy must be driven by science, feel free to scoff. On South Georgia scientists are obviously threatened by management "or else".

    It is also interesting that the Government of South Georgia's spokesman (Martin Collins) said that he was happy to manage a fully protected marine reserve if the fishery money could be maintained. Well the good news is that 80-90% of the area could be fully protected if the UK wanted to do that and still retain almost all the revenue, so what is the problem?

    1. Alistair - good points. As far as Martin Collins was concerned it all seemed to be about £3m - the tiniest drop in the ocean in terms of our expenditure.

    2. That was almost the only part of the programme I managed to see and it made extremely uncomfortable viewing I thought. In the light of the government's recent criticism of health authorities who try to put gagging orders on their employees it would appear to be the height of hypocrisy if, as Alistair suggests, wildlife conservation scientists are made to feel that they cannot risk speaking honestly and openly about what is needed to protect this amazing wildlife, for fear of government reprisal.
      It is by a quirk of history that the UK happens to be responsible for this amazing area but it should really be seen as a part of the whole world's patrimony and our approach to its management should be one of custodianship not exploitation.

  3. The south Atlantic news agency calculated 2011/12 visitors at 58,000 x £52 = £3m one tour cost almost $1000 per day so its not for the weak pocketed anyway and I am sure the nature lovers visiting the site would be prepared to pay this to buy out the permits.
    Did I read about this buying out of permits somewhere. All these tour companies try to project there green lovey image and offset their carbon etc. so come on get together and protect what you are "exploiting".

  4. I'm sorry I missed this episode. Andrew's idea for buying out the fishing permits is excellent - straightforward and effective. Waiting for this government to do something is a waste of time - Defra are too busy sorting out horses.
    If the scientists working on S Georgia feel so pressured by an authority that they are unable to speak their minds this is shocking.

    1. I watched the programme, but was left with many questions which were not aired at all in my opinion.
      So when I saw this letter I was pleased that some of my questions have now been answered by a BAS scientist.
      I admit I was somewhat concerned that maybe the presenter had an agenda!



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