We are dismayed that the international commission that oversees the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources has voted against establishing marine protected areas (MPAs) around Antarctica for the fifth consecutive time. These MPAs are designed to protect wildlife hotspots of world significance.

The main opponents were member states that fish or intend to fish for toothfish (Dissostichus spp.) and Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba). Toothfish, which are sold as Chilean sea bass, are the top fish predators in the Southern Ocean; krill is a crucial component of the marine food web that is sold as fishmeal and for fish-oil pills.

The convention's goal of conservation is being marred by some member states who are misinterpreting the “rational use” proviso in its text. Originally intended to allow fishing in the Southern Ocean only if it complied with strict guidelines, this term is being misinterpreted as an unrestricted right to fish and as an excuse to block tighter regulations (see J. Jacquet et al. Mar. Policy 63, 28–34; 2016).

The commission operates by consensus, so a single member state can prevent cooperation. This year, China and Russia blocked the proposed MPAs for the east Antarctic — even though these included boundaries designed to accommodate fisheries — and Russia blocked an MPA in the Ross Sea.