History of whaling, sealing, fishery and aquaculture trials in the area of the Kerguelen Plateau

Duhamel G., Williams R.

Published date: September 2011
Volume: 35
Number: SP
Pagination: 015-028
doi: https://doi.org/10.26028/cybium/2011-35SP-003

How to cite: Duhamel, G., & Williams, R. (2011). History of whaling, sealing, fishery and aquaculture trials in the area of the Kerguelen Plateau. Cybium, 35(SP): 15-28. https://doi.org/10.26028/CYBIUM/2011-35SP-003


The exploitation of marine resources on the Kerguelen Plateau only began in 1790 (18th century) after the discovery of the northern Kerguelen Islands in 1772. Salted fur seal (Arctocephalus gazella) skins was the first product to be commercialized by Nantucket (USA) and London (UK) ship-owners, mainly on the Kerguelen Islands, and by the early 19th century the seal colonies were decimated. The sealing gangs shifted to extracting oil from the blubber of elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) with American sealing companies establishing a virtual monopoly from 1840-1895, initially in Kerguelen Islands and later (1855-1882) at Heard Island and the McDonald Islands, after their discovery in 1853. Occasionally, whaling for humpback (Megaptera novaeangliae) and southern right whales (Eubalaena australis) occurred in bay-to-bay transits. During the 19th century, more than 20 vessels were wrecked on both island groups. A Norwegian-French whaling station was established at Kerguelen Islands (Port Jeanne d’Arc) in 1908, initially hunting whales and later on elephant seals. It was active from 1908-1914, and from 1920 until its closure in 1929. The last important period of sealing was conducted from mother-ships using small catchers (1925-1931). The last sealing activity (SIDAP) took place at the Kerguelen Islands in 1963. Exploratory finfish fisheries by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR; 1960-62), Japan (1966-67 and 1977-78) and Poland (1974-75) were conducted, leading to the arrival of a fleet of Soviet factory freezer trawlers in 1971-72, targeting Marbled Rockcod Notothenia rossii, Mackerel Icefish Champsocephalus gunnari and Grey Notothen Lepidonotothen squamifrons over the shelf and the surrounding banks. The establishment of a 200 nm French exclusive economic zone (EEZ) off the Kerguelen Islands in 1978 and an Australian EEZ off the Heard and McDonald Islands in 1979 resulted in the closure of the unrestricted fishery. Additionally, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) was established in 1980, which resulted in the introduction of an ecosystem-based management approach in addition to the national regulations on the Plateau. Progressively, national shipowners have taken the place of foreign companies and longlining has largely replaced trawling to target a new deep-sea species, the Patagonian toothfish, Dissostichus eleginoides. Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing occurred from 1997-2004, but active patrolling, seizure of vessels and products, and satellite tracking have eradicated this plague over the Plateau. Other projects (kelp harvesting, sea-ranching of introduced Salmonidae, factory barges) have been proposed but have never been brought to fruition.

Keywords: Fishery - Heard I. - History - Kerguelen I. - Sealing - Whaling
PDF available for everyone