Fish and pol­i­tics be­hind Antarc­tic ma­rine deal

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

Na­tions from around the world on Fri­day reached an his­toric agree­ment to pre­serve an area of ocean near Antarc­tica that’s about twice the size of Texas. Here are some ques­tions and an­swers about the deal:

What’s spe­cial about the area?

The ma­rine pro­tected area will be in the Ross Sea, con­sid­ered to be one of the most pris­tine en­vi­ron­ments in the world. New Zealand of­fi­cials say that at dif­fer­ent times, the area is home to about onethird of the world’s Adelie pen­guins and 26 per­cent of the world’s em­peror pen­guins. It also boasts thriv­ing colonies of seabirds, seals and whales. Re­searchers say the re­gion is im­por­tant to study be­cause it is al­most un­touched by hu­mans, and should re­main that way. Sev­eral coun­tries fish in the re­gion for lu­cra­tive Antarc­tic tooth­fish, which are of­ten sold in stores and restau­rants as Chilean sea bass.

In­di­vid­ual na­tions across the globe have set aside dozens of ma­rine re­serves. But pro­po­nents say this is the first time that a bunch of na­tions have col­lab­o­rated to pro­tect an area on the high seas the open ocean that falls out­side the ju­ris­dic­tion of any one na­tion. The deal was put to­gether by New Zealand and the US.

What are the details?

The re­serve cov­ers 1.6 mil­lion square kilo­me­ters, mak­ing it the world’s largest ma­rine pro­tected area. About 72 per­cent will be a no-take zone, where com­mer­cial fish­ing will be banned. In the re­main­ing ar­eas, limited fish­ing for tooth­fish or krill will be al­lowed, although fisher folk will be re­quired to do ex­tra mon­i­tor­ing and tag­ging so sci­en­tists can eval­u­ate what’s hap­pen­ing to fish stocks. Re­searchers can ap­ply to take limited num­bers of fish from through­out the re­serve.

What about the pol­i­tics?

Many are sur­prised the deal came to­gether at all, es­pe­cially be­cause it re­quired the US and Rus­sia to agree at a time when ten­sions be­tween them are run­ning high. Antarc­tic fish­ing is reg­u­lated by the Com­mis­sion for the Con­ser­va­tion of Antarc­tic Ma­rine Liv­ing Re­sources, whose mem­bers in­clude 24 na­tions and the Euro­pean Union. All agree­ments must be unan­i­mous, which has proved a stum­bling block in the past for a group with such di­ver­gent pol­i­tics and in­ter­ests. Many na­tions had been push­ing for a re­serve but a few had re­sisted, with Rus­sia be­com­ing the fi­nal hold­out. The deal made some small con­ces­sions to Rus­sia by al­ter­ing the bound­aries and by in­creas­ing the fish­ing quota out­side of the no-take zone.

What’s next?

En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists hope the deal will pave the way for fu­ture agree­ments on the high seas, and that one day a big chunk of the world’s oceans will be pro­tected as a re­sult. It could also help speed along plans for other ma­rine re­serves around Antarc­tica. The agree­ment takes ef­fect in De­cem­ber 2017 and, in the no-take zone, runs for 35 years. At that point, the mem­ber na­tions will again need to reach con­sen­sus for the re­serve to con­tinue - no sim­ple task judg­ing by the con­tentious na­ture of past ne­go­ti­a­tions. —AP

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