Spatiotemporal overlap of baleen whales and krill fisheries in the Western Antarctic Peninsula region

In Antarctica, abundant consumers rely on Antarctic krill for food, but krill are also the subject of a commercial fishery. The fishery overlaps in time and space with the foraging areas of these consumers, thus potential competition between krill fisheries and krill consumers is a major management concern. The fishery is managed by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources with an ecosystem approach, according to which fishing should not interfere with either the population growth of krill, or krill-dependent consumers. Krill catches have become increasingly spatially concentrated in a small number of hotspots, raising concerns about how local depletion of krill impacts consumers. Such concentrated fishing demonstrates that there is a mismatch between the spatial and temporal scale at which krill fisheries are currently managed, and that at which fisheries operate and consumers forage. Information on the seasonal dynamics of predator abundance and their foraging behaviour is fundamental to future precautionary management of the krill fishery. We analysed the spatiotemporal distribution of two major krill consumers – humpback and minke whales – and that of krill fishing, off the Western Antarctic Peninsula. We used whale tracking data (58 humpback whale tracks and 19 minke whale tracks) to develop spatial random forest models predicting the monthly distribution of whale foraging areas from January-July. Using these predictions, we calculated spatiotemporally-explicit geographic overlap between whales and fisheries, the latter represented by krill fishing effort and catch data. Over the krill fishing season, fishing effort and catch hotspots shifted to the southwest, into the Bransfield Strait where effort and catch was highest. Predicted humpback whale foraging areas increased in the Bransfield Strait over the same period, while predicted minke whale foraging areas showed an opposite trend. For both we predicted a whale-fishing interaction hotspot in the Bransfield Strait, strongest in April and May. Our results illustrate the fine spatial scale of likely interactions between baleen whales and the krill fishery, and their concentration over the season, underlining the need for fishery management more closely aligned to the spatiotemporal scale of likely predator-fishery interactions.


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Authors: Reisinger, Ryan R., Trathan, Philip N. ORCIDORCID record for Philip N. Trathan, Johnson, Christopher M., Joyce, Trevor W., Durban, John W., Pitman, Robert L., Friedlaender, Ari S.

On this site: Philip Trathan
21 July, 2022
Frontiers in Marine Science / 9
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