Krill intentions: how low can fishing go?

Posted by Willie — 21 February 2013 at 5:14pm - Comments
Red Krill Oil, advertised by Carol Vorderman
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No fishy taste? Claims that krill fishing is sustainable are hard to swallow

It’s a sad day, but I think I have run out of krill puns. Well, I’ve been banging on about this for a few years now, and since Happy Feet 2 basically unleashed every krill joke possible, courtesy of Matt Damon and Brad Pitt, there’s not a lot left.

And that, dear readers, is my worry about krill itself.

At the moment, there are lots of krill. But there are real concerns there. As we pointed out in our report in 2009 there is a great deal of uncertainty about krill populations, and they seem to be especially susceptible to climate change as well as natural fluctuations. Since they are a keystone species and the thing that pretty much everything else in the Southern Ocean depends on, that’s a real worry. And because some species that feed on krill (like whales) migrate vast distances, the impacts could be felt literally on the other side of the planet.

Krill is a tiny crustacean - a micro-prawn, if you like - and it forms part of the plankton level in our oceans. It's at the bottom of the food chain so huge numbers of other species – whether they eat krill or not – are directly or indirectly affected by how abundant they are. And once you are fishing down to that level, there’s really not much further you can go. If you care about the world’s whales, seals, albatrosses and penguins, then you should care about krill.

Given that they are so crucial to all of that charismatic, internationally-valued life, and given that we as a planet decided years ago to protect the Antarctic, then what, you might think, is the problem?

Antarctica’s land may well be protected, but its seas are not, and advances in technology - coupled with the exhaustion of fisheries elsewhere - means that there is a new gold rush (or perhaps pink rush is more appropriate) to catch krill. Echoing the whaling boom of a century ago, massive factory ships are now headed to the Southern Ocean to hoover up, well, whale food.

And what is it for? Omega 3 supplements for sale in health food shops, or being ground into meal for farmed fish and other animals. Even celebrity maths-boffin Carol Vorderman has put her face to selling you krill supplements, despite the fact that the environmental costs simply don’t add up.

What makes it even more difficult to swallow is that some of these ‘fisheries’ hoovering up plankton are now being accredited as ‘sustainable’ by the likes of the Marine Stewardship Council.

We need to draw a line somewhere when it comes to exploiting our oceans. The fact that we are already fishing at the bottom of the food web, at the bottom of the world should be a huge wake-up call to us. In my view it’s simply wrong, unjustifiable, and unsustainable. Future generations will look back aghast that we could ever have thought otherwise.

So I’m glad to see that Hugh’s Fish Fight is bringing the reality of this lunacy into our living rooms, I hope it helps make a few more people worried about just where and when we will draw that line in the ocean.

Give krill a chance, indeed. And the penguins, the whales… and the rest of the Antarctic.

About Willie

Hi, I'm Willie, I work with Greenpeace on all things ocean-related

Twitter: @williemackenzie

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