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Is krill sustainable? We aim to find out

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Omega-3 fatty acids are kings of the mountain when it comes to ingredients strongly backed by science. Repeated studies have supported EPA and DHA for cognitive health and maintaining healthy cardiovascular systems. More recent studies show the promise of omega-3s in supporting consumers suffering from mild depression.

Few doubts remain about the efficacy of omega-3s. But as the science piles up, and the potential demand for these ingredients is forecast to rise, doubts about the size of the supply pile up, too.

Omega-3s have traditionally come from fish oil, but the long-term sustainability of these supplies is in question. The brightness of the picture varies from fishery to fishery, but the panorama is dim: The global fish harvest has been declining for decades, even with the increasing technological sophistication of the fishing fleet.   And even if those fish stocks were healthy, there are not enough fish in the sea to supply all of the globe’s 7 billion inhabitants with a recommended daily intake of 500 mg of EPA and DHA.

Krill has come to the fore as an alternative source of omega-3s in recent years. But krill has a cloud hanging over it, too; Whole Foods decided in 2009 to ban krill supplements from their shelves over sustainability concerns.

It’s a cloud that krill companies would like to dissipate. The krill industry is fond of reciting the statistics that the latest estimates of krill biomass in the waters surrounding Antarctica is about 133 million tons, whereas the world harvest of krill in recent years has been about 200,000 tons. Sustainability advocates say that there is not enough evidence to prove that even this low level of harvest is without consequence for predators like whales.  For its part, the krill industry in general seems to agree with the notion that more data is needed.

I’m travelling this week to Oslo, Norway, to talk with the world’s biggest krill supplier— Aker Biomarine—about what they are doing to address this ongoing sustainability question. As the world’s only vertically integrated supplier of krill oil for human nutrition, Aker is in a unique position to further the science and sustainability agendas.The Marine Stewardship Council recently gave Aker’s operations a thumbs up, as has the Friends of the Sea organization. I will also be talking to officials at the World Wildlife Fund, Norway chapter, whose conservation director, Nina Jensen, recently called the current level of krill harvest “highly sustainable.” 

I’ve written before about Aker’s support of science. And my colleague Caren Baginski has written about Aker’s technical advances to limit bycatch via a filter net. I’ll be writing in the next few days about the latest developments in this important marine source of omega-3s.

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