Antarctic krill oil sustainability: Is there enough to meet growing demand?
Most of the krill being harvested for its oil (Euphausia superba) swarm in the waters of the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica (although these are not the only source for the coveted ingredients in the oil (phospholipid-bonded omega-3s, astaxanthin and choline, for instance).
Krill feed on the summer blooms of algae that grow on and in the Antarctic ice.
Because Antarctic krill are so important to so many other species, in 1982 United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Chile, European Community, Germany and Japan formed a treaty organization to ensure that krill were being harvested sustainably. Named the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR-pronounced camel-lahr), it now manages the fin fish (mostly toothfish) and krill fisheries in the Southern Ocean. Scientists from many of the CCAMLR member nations conduct research in the Southern Ocean and make recommendations to CCAMLR that enable the organization to make management decisions. Currently there are 25 Members of CCAMLR, 24 member states and the European Community.
Today, because of CCAMLR, the Antarctic krill fishery has numerous controls in place, and scientists have taken a “precautionary” approach, determining the allowable tonnage and the specific areas where krill can be harvested without irreversible effects on the ecosystem.
2012 Krill Quota Update
Total 2011/2012 quota for krill harvest in the oceans around Antarctica has been set at 5.61 million tons, which is the same as in 2010. The quota is well within the bounds of precautionary limits, according to CCAMLR, the international convention for the protection of krill and other marine life in the Antarctic oceans.
Norway accounts for more than 50% of the krill harvest. The krill catch of the three Norwegian vessels is around 103,000 tons according to the preliminary 2010/2011 capture reports.
However, there is still a way to go to ensure that controls that apply to the krill fishery are commensurate with those that apply to the CCAMLR fin-fish fisheries. The actual krill catch is far below the total allowable catch, but some scientists say that the most significant issue for krill populations is concentration of the catch in one area, which can have significant impacts on the ecosystem. In recognition of impacts on related and dependent species, CCAMLR has introduced ‘trigger levels’ and, most recently, subdivision of the trigger level to allow some spatial distribution of the krill catch.
According to Nina Jensen conservation director of the World Wildlife Fund (in an interview with NutraIngredients' Shane Starling), the krill fishery is "the world's largest underexploited fishery," and from what we know now, is highly sustainable. She notes that the total biomass of krill is estimated to be between between 50-500 million tonnes. The most current estimate is 133 million tonnes, and the current fishery is taking only around 200,000 tonnes of that. This amounts to only about 0.02 percent of the total biomass estimate.
Jensen says, "There are quite a few dramatic stories circulating around that aren't really describing an accurate picture" of the fishery.
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