Only two inches long, Antarctic krill are a primary food source for the world’s largest animals, and the foundation of the food web in the world’s coldest place.

Antarctic scientist Dr Andrew Constable has been awarded a 2008 Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation to help ensure that the rapidly growing Antarctic krill fishery will not impact negatively on the recovery of threatened whale populations or the survival of other Antarctic creatures.

Dr Constable says that krill are increasingly sought by commercial fishing fleets for use in fish-food, pharmaceutical applications, and human consumption.

“Most of the larger Antarctic animals, the seals, whales and seabirds as well as less well known fish and squid, depend directly or indirectly on Antarctic krill as a food source. There is rising concern that the dual threats of climate change and overfishing will lead to the collapse of the krill population and perilous impacts to the ecosystem,” said Dr Constable.

Dr Constable, a leader in the Antarctic Marine Ecosystems Program of the Australian Antarctic Division and the Cooperative Research Centre for Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems (ACE CRC), will use his Fellowship to create a flexible fishery management model that takes a whole ecosystem approach to krill management.

“As factors such as predator numbers, krill abundance and climatic conditions change over time, this computer-based model will allow us to see the impact of tightening or loosening krill fishery restrictions so that we can minimise negative effects on the Antarctic ecosystem.

“Climate change also adds a degree of uncertainty when trying to assess sustainable rates of krill harvesting. Given the rapid expansion of the krill fishery, it is urgent that we design an effective and inclusive management strategy to allow sustainable harvesting of krill populations while also preserving the unique web of life in the Antarctic.”

Dr Constable is among five of the world’s most innovative and progressive thinkers in ocean science to receive this highly competitive three-year, US$150,000 Fellowship in support of critical marine environment conservation initiatives around the world.

The Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation has been awarded to more than 100 leading marine scientists, economists, attorneys, and other ocean conservationists from 27 countries. Designed to support innovative work, the program provides flexible support of projects through which Fellows develop and implement solutions to critical challenges in the marine realm.