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Antarctic marine reserve plans fail to move ahead

October 31, 2014

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Environmental groups said Saturday that Russia and China blocked a plan to create the world’s largest marine reserve in a vast swath of ocean off the coast of Antarctica.

The countries that make decisions about Antarctic fishing finished a 10-day meeting late Friday in Hobart, Australia, without reaching the required consensus to move ahead with the plan. It’s the fourth time the plan has failed.

Most of the 24 nations and the European Union favored the U.S.-New Zealand proposal to ban most fishing in a sanctuary twice the size of Texas in the Ross Sea.

A second proposal by Australia, France and the European Union to create four smaller reserves off the coast of the East Antarctica also failed to pass.

The Ross Sea is home to the Antarctic toothfish, a lucrative species that is often marketed in North America as Chilean sea bass. A number of nations have fishing interests in the region.

The U.S.-New Zealand proposal had been a decade in the making and has gotten strong support from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. The proposal would have banned fishing from most of the 1.3 million square kilometer (517,000 square mile) reserve while allowing for limited scientific catches in some areas.

The Antarctic Ocean Alliance, which represents several environmental groups, said Russia and China blocked the plan, and that the outcome raises questions about the ability of the nations that comprise the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, or CCAMLR, to deliver on conservation commitments.

“It is appalling that while the majority of CCAMLR members are more than ready to create significant marine protection in Antarctic waters, China and Russia have again blocked all efforts to negotiate a successful outcome,” said Mark Epstein, the executive director of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition, in a statement.

Andrea Kavanagh, director of the Southern Ocean protection project for The Pew Charitable Trusts, said this week it might be time to consider new approaches, such as consumers, or nations, refusing to buy fish that has been caught inside the proposed reserve boundaries.

“It’s crushing that for the fourth time in three years this hasn’t gotten through,” she said.

The convention was established in 1982 with the express objective of conserving Antarctic marine life while allowing for sustainable fishing.

“It’s very disappointing from the U.S. perspective,” said U.S. delegation leader Evan Bloom.

The Russian delegation could not be contacted this week for comment.

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