Krill oil is a popular nutritional supplement and part of a billion dollar industry, but conservationists fear fisheries are focused on areas vital to species that depend on it for food, writes Nada Farhoud
Image: Getty Images)
The next time you shop for supplements and vitamins, take a closer look at the ingredients.
Beneath the bottles of cod liver oil and vitamin C is a dietary supplement that is responsible for ridding the ocean of a species vital to penguins and whales – krill oil.
But it’s a dangerous journey through some of the roughest seas in the world to get to the Antarctic Peninsula to get it on supermarket shelves.
Last year, 14 ships – each a floating factory, some the size of a soccer field and capable of sucking in more than 1,000 tons of krill a day – ventured into this multi-billion dollar industry.
About the size of a paper clip, Antarctic krill is the most abundant species on Earth, estimated to be around 400 million tons.
Getty Images / Photolibrary RM)
It provides iron and other nutrients that fertilize the ocean and is a vital source of food for wildlife such as whales, penguins, and seals.
The Southern Ocean is one of the largest carbon sinks in the world. One study found that krill can remove up to 12 billion tons of carbon from the Earth’s atmosphere each year.
While krill has long been used to fatten farmed fish, the demand for Antarctic krill oil has skyrocketed in recent years.
It is marketed as superior to other fish oil pills because it is claimed to be more effective at delivering omega-3 fatty acids into the bloodstream – and there is no fishy aftertaste.
A bottle sold on Amazon claims to be “sustainably harvested from pure water … to ensure maximum nutrient quality”.
China is building the world’s largest Antarctic krill trawler, due for completion in 2023.
The country has more than doubled its Antarctic krill catch from 50,423 tons in 2019 to 118,353 tons in 2020.
Russia is investing £ 460 million in krill fishing, and South Korea is also registering more vessels.
The Antarctic Marine Living Resource Commission insists that its practices do not disrupt the marine ecosystem.
However, conservationists fear that fisheries will be concentrated in areas vital to species that rely on krill as a source of food.
Rodolfo Werner of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition said, “When you fish for krill, what you do affects the entire ecosystem because every species in Antarctica feeds on krill or some other species that feed on Krill feeds. ”