Taking account of dependent species in management of the Southern Ocean krill fishery: estimating crabeater seal abundance off east Antarctica.
The crabeater seal Lobodon carcinophaga is considered to be a key species in the krill-based foodweb of the Southern Ocean. Reliable estimates of the abundance of this species are necessary to allow the development of multispecies, predator-prey models as a basis for management of the krill fishery in the Southern Ocean. A survey of crabeater seal abundance was undertaken in 1500 000 km2 of pack-ice off east Antarctica between longitudes 64-150°E during the austral summer of 1999/2000. Sighting surveys, using double observer line transect methods, were conducted from an icebreaker and two helicopters to estimate the density of seals hauled out on the ice in survey strips. Satellite-linked dive recorders were deployed on a sample of seals to estimate the probability of seals being hauled out on the ice at the times of day when sighting surveys were conducted. Model-based inference, involving fitting a density surface, was used to infer densities in the entire survey region from estimates in the surveyed areas. Crabeater seal abundance was estimated to be between 0.7 and 1.4 million animals (with 95% confidence), with the most likely estimate slightly less than 1 million. Synthesis and applications. The estimation of crabeater seal abundance in Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) management areas off east Antarctic where krill biomass has also been estimated recently provides the data necessary to begin extending from single-species to multispecies management of the krill fishery. Incorporation of all major sources of uncertainty allows a precautionary interpretation of crabeater abundance and demand for krill in keeping with CCAMLR' precautionary approach to management. While this study focuses on the crabeater seal and management of living resources in the Southern Ocean, it has also led to technical and theoretical developments in survey methodology that have widespread potential application in ecological and resource management studies, and will contribute to a more fundamental understanding of the structure and function of the Southern Ocean ecosystem.