The CAMLR Convention is a multilateral response by Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties (ATCPs) to potential threats to Antarctic marine ecosystems occuring as a result of increased commercial interest in Antarctic fisheries resources, including krill. Drawing on the advice of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research, the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) convened the Conference on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. That Conference resulted in the negotiation of the CAMLR Convention.
Two instruments were initially adopted under the 1959 Antarctic Treaty to promote the preservation and conservation of living resources in Antarctica. Confined to the Antarctic Treaty Area (south of 60°S), the first of these took the form of the 1964 Agreed Measures for the Conservation of Antarctic Fauna and Flora which entered into force in 1982.
The Agreed Measures were followed by the 1972 Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals (CCAS), which aimed to promote and achieve the objectives of protection, scientific study and rational use of Antarctic seals, and to maintain a satisfactory balance within the ecological system. CCAS was also limited to the Antarctic Treaty Area and entered into force on 11 March 1978.
Extensive harvesting of fish in the sub-Antarctic during the late 1960s and mid-1970s, along with the emergence of interest in the large-scale exploitation of Antarctic krill, raised concerns about the sustainability of such fisheries.
At the Eighth Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in 1975, the ATCPs adopted Recommendation VIII-10 which noted the need to promote and achieve within the framework of the Antarctic Treaty, the objectives of protection, scientific study and rational use of [Antarctic] marine living resources. The Recommendation went on to focus attention on scientific study as an essential basis for protection and rational use of Antarctic marine living resources.
The Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) was invited to advise in respect of key scientific areas for research.
SCAR responded in form of the Biological Investigation of Marine Antarctic Systems and Stocks (BIOMASS) program in 1977. The primary objective of BIOMASS was to gain a deeper understanding of the structure and dynamic functioning of the Antarctic marine ecosystem as a basis for the future management of living resources. In addition to work undertaken by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in 1977, BIOMASS emphasised the importance of krill as a keystone species in the Antarctic marine ecosystem and underscored concerns that unsustainable, large-scale exploitation of krill could have severe repercussions on Antarctic seabird, seal and whale species that depend on krill as food.
Over the next eight years, the BIOMASS program sponsored substantial research, including the first large-scale acoustic assessment of krill in 1981 – the First International BIOMASS Experiment (FIBEX).
Meanwhile, ATCM Recommendation IX-2 (London, 1977) called on the Antarctic Treaty Parties to contribute to scientific research on Antarctic marine living resources, to observe interim guidelines on their conservation, and to hold a Special Antarctic Consultative Meeting to set up a definitive conservation regime for such resources.
This led to the Conference on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources which began in 1978 and concluded with the signing of the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CAMLR Convention) in Canberra, Australia, on 20 May 1980. The CAMLR Convention entered into force on 7 April 1982.