Krill oil is a popular health supplement and part of a billion-dollar industry, but conservationists fear fishing is concentrated in areas crucial to species that depend on it as a food source, writes Nada Farhoud
Image: Getty Images)
Next time you are shopping for supplements and vitamins, take a closer look at the ingredients.
Among the bottles of cod liver oil and vitamin C is a health supplement that is responsible for stripping the ocean of a species which is a vital food for penguins and whales – krill oil.
But it is a dangerous journey through some of the roughest seas in the world to get to the Antarctic peninsula to get it to supermarket shelves.
Last year 14 vessels – each one a floating factory, some the size of football pitches and capable of vacuuming up more than 1,000 tonnes of krill a day – risked the journey to be part of this billion-dollar industry.
Roughly the size of a paperclip, Antarctic krill is the most abundant species on Earth, estimated to amount to around 400m tonnes.
Getty Images/Photolibrary RM)
It contributes iron and other nutrients that fertilise the ocean, and is a vital food source for wildlife including 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 12billion tonnes of carbon from the Earth’s atmosphere each year.
While krill have long been used to fatten farmed fish, the demand for Antarctic krill oil has soared in recent years.
It is marketed as superior to other fish oil pills as it is claimed it’s more effective in delivering omega-3 fatty acids to the bloodstream – and there is no fishy aftertaste.
One bottle sold on Amazon claims to be “sustainably harvested from pristine waters… to ensure maximum nutrient quality”.
China is building the world’s largest Antarctic krill trawler, due to be finished in 2023.
The country more than doubled its catch of Antarctic krill from 50,423 tonnes in 2019 to 118,353 tonnes in 2020.
Russia is investing £460m in krill fishing, and South Korea is also registering more ships.
The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources insists their practices do not disrupt the marine ecosystem.
But conservationists fear fishing is concentrated in areas crucial to species that depend on krill as a food source.
Rodolfo Werner, of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition, said: “When you’re fishing for krill, what you’re doing will affect the whole ecosystem, because every species in Antarctica feeds on krill or on another species that feeds on krill.”