Is the Krill Harvest Sustainable?

Krill is one of the most bountiful animals on the planet with a biomass of over 550,000,000 tons (according to Wikipedia). That’s twice the current biomass of human beings. Feeding only on Phytoplankton, over half of the krill population is eaten every year by whales and penguins.

The recent discovery of krill oil’s amazing health benefits, including it’s effect on cholesterol and how it helps with menstruation has lead to the birth of a krill harvest which mostly takes place in Antarctica.

A lot of questions have been raised about the sustainability of the krill harvest. Environmental groups are worried because krill is the main source of food for whales and some endangered species.

Casson Trenor, a Greenpeace campaigner, wrote that “an unofficial nod (has been given) to the basic idea that vacuuming up the tiny life forms forming the foundations of the oceanic ecosystem is an acceptable practice.”

These allegations have lead to some companies not trusting krill oil supplements. Whole Food Markets has outright banned anything to do with the krill oil harvest.

On top of this The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization warned that: “Last year… 80 percent of the oceans commercial fish stocks were either being fished at maximum limits or were overexploited.”

Krill seems to be the exception to this. The Marine Stewardship Council, which regulates fishing and promotes sustainable fisheries, reports in a New York Times article that a very small percentage of krill is harvested.

“150,000 tons (was harvested) in the 2007-8 fishing season (this) amounts to less than 1 percent of total estimated krill biomass…”

The council has deemed many krill harvesting companies as ‘sustainable.’ This is because there are roughly 500 million tons of krill in the northern seas, with 110,000 tons harvested annually. With such a small percentage the krill population continues to grow and a New York Times article reports that: “No one is suggesting that krill stocks are in imminent danger of extinction.”

Many believe that the harvesting of krill is as bad as the killing of mosquitoes: the population is so large that even widespread harvesting has very little effect on it. In fact: “Six vessels are licensed to harvest a limited amount of krill in the Antarctic Ocean and they can only do so between January and August (when the sea is clear of ice). That allows stocks time to recover. So we are not making a big dent in the biomass,” this according to the spokesperson for Aker BioMarine.

For now krill harvesting is one of the most sustainable forms of fishing. The population of krill is so large that it would take decades of over-fishing to put it in danger. With the extreme regulation that the industry is put under, this won’t happen.