Currently only a handful of CCAMLR member nations are undertaking active research in the Southern Ocean. But according to Dr. SoKawaguchi, a principal research scientist at the Australia Antarctic Division, so far things are well in control.
“CCAMLR is the pioneer organization to successfully implement precautionary and ecosystem approach in managing [the krill fishery]. As this fishery further grows, however, it is critical that we make sure it develops in an orderly manner. It is also becoming increasingly important that we take into account the possible effects of climate change on the ecosystem as well as effects of changes in technology and operational pattern of krill fishing vessels on the fishery when making management decisions,” he says.
Dr. Kawaguchi has done pioneering work around krill. Most recently he filmed for the first time the mating habits of krill.
Kawaguchi, who has written extensively on management of the krill fishery, emphasizes that there are still many unknowns about the Antarctic ecosystem. “The abundance of krill is huge, but this estimate itself has vast uncertainties,” he says.” Further, this abundance could be greatly affected by climate change. For now, as long as the catches are distributed across the areas, I don’t think there would be an immediate threat to krill population itself with the levels at which krill is currently being taken.
“However, one of our current concerns is the local impact of the krill fishery on the land-based animals, such as penguins and seals. They breed on islands and forage within the reach of these areas they colonize, especially when they are feeding chicks and pups,” Kawaguchi says. This is also where the [krill] fishing vessels mainly operate. If all the current catch came from a small area, this might deprive food required for the local land-based species.” You can read more about Dr. Kawaguchi's work here.
Consequently, CCAMLR sets precautionary catch limits for krill in fishing grounds, as well as a “trigger level” which cannot be exceeded without further subdivision of these precautionary catch limits (total of about four million tons) into smaller management units in south Atlantic sector (the main krill-fishing area). Until the last fishing season, the trigger level was set to 620,000 tons for the whole south Atlantic sector. Also, until last year a system was not in place to stop the fishery from taking the whole trigger-level amount from a single location.
To address this issue, at the 2009 meeting, CCAMLR members agreed to spatially allocate the trigger level to prevent the catch from being concentrated in a small area, as well as mandate scientific observers on at least half the ships harvesting krill.
Volker Siegel, a krill biologist with the Sea Fisheries Research Institute in Hamburg, Germany, has been quoted extensively in articles dealing with the krill population, which has been diminishing noticeably over the past three decades. Despite this fact, Siegel believes the fisheries aren't posing a significant threat to krill stocks at this point, though, like Kawaguchi, he acknowledges that we still don't know enough about the structure of the krill population.
Another of CCAMLR's scientists is Dr. Simeon Hill, a senior scientific officer of at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) at Cambridge, England. BAS is one of the world's leading environmental research centers and is responsible for the UK's national scientific activities in Antarctica.
Commenting on Whole Foods Market decision in May 2010 to pull krill oil from its shelves because of concerns over sustainability, he said, “It makes sense [that someone might make such a decision] seems likely that Whole Foods’ decision is based on an appeal to emotions. However, they don’t seem to be applying the same strict criteria on sustainability across their whole range of products.
“I would argue that sustainability is a far greater issue in many other fisheries than in the krill fishery,” he said.
In 2011, Dr. Hill said that current yearly catches of 210,000 tonnes amounts to 34 per cent of the trigger limit of 620,000 tonnes, a level established to minimise environmental risk. Current data, he said, indicates that the krill fishery is "probably sustainable," although he said there needs to be ongoing spatial, population, environmental and harvesting research, especially about where krill populations are fished because the krill in coastal areas may have greater influence on penguins and seals than, for example, fish and whales further out to sea.
Producing krill oil sustainably
The company that pioneered the krill oil business, Neptune Technologies & Bioressources,got a big pat on the back in 2011 from NSF International, a nonprofit organization that certifies for public health and safety. NSF approved a list of Neptune's environmental claims after a rigorous review of the company's facilities and procedures. The list includes:
The company only uses krill captured by fisheries that follow the Antarctic Treaty (1961) rules and respect the annual capture quota of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).
It obtains krill from fisheries that use only mid-water trawl, minimizing the impact on other species as by-catch.
Neptune krill oils are alternative sources of marine omega-3 which reduce the pressure on fish populations.
Neptune's OceanExtract patented process recycles an annual 99 percent of the extraction solvent used during the manufacture of Neptune krill oils.
Neptune only uses krill that is 100 percent traceable to the source of capture.