Environmental Conservation

  • Environmental Conservation / Volume 40 / Issue 04 / December 2013, pp 394-405
  • Copyright © Foundation for Environmental Conservation 2013 The online version of this article is published within an Open Access environment subject to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike licence <http://creativecommons.org/licensesw/by-nc-sa/2.5/>. The written permission of Cambridge University Press must be obtained for commercial re-use.
  • DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0376892913000088 (About DOI), Published online: 15 April 2013

THEMATIC SECTION: Politics, Science and Policy of Reference Points for Resource Management

From strategic ambiguity to technical reference points in the Antarctic krill fishery: the worst journey in the world?


British Antarctic Survey, Natural Environment Research Council, High Cross, Madingley Road, Cambridge, CB3 0ET, UK


The goals of ecosystem based management (EBM) are strategically ambiguous, meaning that they require interpretation to identify objectives for ecosystem state. Ecosystem states that are useful for achieving such objectives are known as reference points. Soft reference points specify both a state and a probability of the ecosystem being in that state. They are used with simulation models to identify management measures for which the risk of the ecosystem entering an undesirable state is below a specified level. The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) is responsible for the EBM of Antarctic krill fisheries. CCAMLR used soft reference points for the krill stock in the Scotia Sea and southern Drake Passage to set a regional catch limit. However, this catch limit needs spatial subdivision to protect predators from localized depletion. Model-based evaluations of different options for subdividing the catch limit used illustrative reference points to assess the depletion risk to multiple predators. This study demonstrates that the apparent risk is sensitive to the choice of reference point and method for aggregating modelled predators. EBM practitioners and stakeholders need to be aware that these factors could therefore bias comparisons of management measures. Nonetheless, qualitative distinctions between different spatial subdivision options are relatively consistent except at high levels of aggregation and extreme reference points. This study also demonstrates a lack of generality in the relationship between current and future ecosystem state. Thus, the EBM goal of maintaining ecosystem resilience implies different reference points for the current state of different ecosystem components. Despite early progress in defining soft reference points for the krill stock, CCAMLR has not yet defined reference points for krill predators. Structured dialogue aimed at identifying collective objectives might be necessary to achieve further progress in CCAMLR and other EBM organizations.

(Received September 30 2012)

(Accepted March 03 2013)

(Online publication April 15 2013)


  • ecosystem based management;
  • ecosystem dynamics model;
  • ecosystem services;
  • Euphausia superba ;
  • krill;
  • reference point;
  • risk;
  • uncertainty


Correspondence: Dr Simeon Hill e-mail: sih@bas.ac.uk