US, New Zealand Reach Agreement on Massive Antarctic Ocean Preserve

Brook Peterson/CC BY-ND 2.0

An update on the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources meeting, ongoing in Tasmania: The West Australian reports that the United States and New Zealand have reached a compromise on the creation of what may become the world's largest ocean preserve in the Ross Sea, off Antarctica.

The current joint preserve proposal would have 2.27 million square kilometers of the Ross Sea designated as a "special research zone." In that zone 1.6 million square kilometers would be off limits entirely to fishing, with the remainder allowing only "light" fishing.

The total area is under the total area originally proposed by New Zealand, which would've allowed more extensive fishing, and over the area put forth by the US, which would've been entirely a no-fishing zone.

New Zealand had objected to the US proposal, in an effort to try to protect its fishermen going after Patagonian toothfish.

Two big variables: How long the protected area will last—the length of time is still open to negotiation—and whether the whole thing will be approved by the member states of CCAMLR.

Commenting on the news, the Antarctic Ocean Alliance described the proposed reserve "clearly substantial" in area, though far below the 3.6 million square kilometers they were pushing for. However, concerns were raised about what actually constitutes "light" fishing, as well as the possibility that the preserve may have an expiration date.

AOA director Stephen Campbell:

The AOA urges that marine protected areas should remain in place for generations to come and not be reopened on a whim of one country. It is vital that any proposal provides enduring protection for the most important places.

Tags: Antarctica | Fishing | Oceans