Intensification of krill fishing increasingly threatens the ecosystem

What is the value of a crustacean the size of an Antarctic-wide safety pin? However, intensive krill fishing can disrupt the entire ecosystem. Both a major food source for marine mammals and a player in the absorption of carbon from algae present on the surface of the water, it is actually threatened by overfishing.

In a report published this month, Krill, baby, krill: Corporations profiting from plundering Antarctica, the NGO Changing Markets Foundation examines krill supply chains in the food industry. He decries the unsustainable exploitation of krill, these small translucent crustaceans, a few centimeters long, which thrive in the icy waters of the Southern Ocean but represent one of the planet’s most important sources of protein.

A threat to the planetary balance

Intensive fishing of krill is a concern for biodiversity conservation. This directly affects the balance of marine fauna, which is the main food source of krill. Fishing vessels are in direct competition with whales, penguins, seals and other squid, as the marine species’ feeding grounds and harvesting areas overlap.

But the impact on the ecosystem is twofold: krill also plays a key role in carbon sequestration. It feeds on carbon-rich algae present on the surface of the water and then, after digestion, rejects its carbonaceous waste at the bottom of the ocean. The NGO explains in its report that krill contribute to slowing climate change by transporting “up to 23 million tons of carbon, equivalent to the emissions of 35 million cars.”

The Changing Markets Foundation is not the only organization to condemn the overexploitation of krill. The IPCC 2022 report also warns of depletion of krill stocks. A sector characterized as neither sustainable nor sustainable: fishing, ocean warming and acidification from human pollution directly threaten its recovery. The IPCC even advises producers to turn to alternative sources such as marine phytoplankton, macroalgae or marine bacteria.

A growing market

Krill exploitation is mainly intended for the commercialization of the two processed products that dominate the market. On the one hand, krill meal is widely used as a feed additive in the aquaculture industry (50% is dedicated to feeding farmed salmon and 35% to shrimp). More expensive than fishmeal used as a staple food, krill meal is only used as a food additive, especially to make food more appetizing and to highlight the pink color of salmon.

On the other hand, krill oil is extracted to produce omega-3 dietary supplements for human consumption. Up to 30 times more expensive than fish oil, benefits from premium health care label: According to the NGO, the market for krill oil-based nutritional supplements is expected to grow by 13.1% between 2020 and 2027. A profitable market in full expansion that Norwegian fisheries and biotechnology company Aker BioMarine, a sector leader that accounts for 80% of world krill oil production, intends to supply by developing new products based on krill rather than protein powder. and animal feed.

Uninformed consumer

If krill is so heavy in the food industry, it is because it is so easily found on the consumer’s plate. Krill salmon is sold by most of the large European supermarket chains (Aldi, Carrefour, Lidl, Auchan, etc.), which buy their supplies from producers who support this fishery (Bakkafrost, Cermaq, Grieg Seafodd, Lerøy Seafood and Norway Royal Salmon). ., reveals a study of supply chains carried out by an NGO.

Unfamiliar to consumers, the presence of krill is rarely highlighted on packaging, and “the krill fishing industry also tends to hide behind various labels such as MSC Sustainable Fishing or Friend of the Sea,” the NGO denounces. Labels that consumers trust, “as a quick and easy way to identify more sustainable products without having to be a supply chain expert.” According to the NGO, these labels were issued to companies that did not comply with national legislation, particularly regarding krill fishing quotas and overfishing.

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