Here’s the latest wrinkle that is making Whole Foods Market’s controversial decision to remove the powerful omega-3 dietary supplement krill oil from its shelves over concerns about the fishery’s sustainability seem even more odd.
Even Greenpeace, no slouch when it comes to being concerned about environmental issues, has backed the guidelines set by the Commission for Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), the 28-member-nation treaty organization that oversees management of the fishery, using the data compiled by CCAMLR scientists.
Krill oil is not only an important source of food for just about everything that swims and flies in the Antarctic. It is also a wonderful health resource for humans, containing omega-3s bonded to phospholipids, which makes them easy for the body to take in. It also contains astaxanthin, a powerful antioxidant that is good for numerous functions in the body. Omega-3s, probably the most researched dietary supplement in history, are clearly so critical for so many aspects of human health that we’re going to need a lot for a long time.
But as the human demand for fish oil continues to skyrocket, new and viable sources for the needed omega-3s are going to be needed. Krill, being the largest biomass in the world, holds great promise for providing these needed nutrients.
A dissenting voice about krill fishery sustainability
Curiously, one organization, Antarctic Krill Conservation Project (AKCP), funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, is protesting the decision. Gerald Leape, AKCP’s director, issued a statement, saying, “The MSC’s label falsely advertises the message that all krill are sustainably caught and that consuming krill-based omega-3 supplements or purchasing farmed salmon raised on krill meal is okay. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Mr. Leape claims that the MSC “ignored irrefutable evidence put forward by numerous stakeholders including prominent Antarctic scientists, climate change and forage fishery experts and environmental groups,” that the fishery is not sustainable. WellWise.org has been unable to unearth such evidence. On the contrary, senior scientists who are key to advising CCAMLR about how to manage the fishery have reiterated that the krill fishery is among the best-managed fisheries in the world, among these Dr. Simeon Hill, a senior scientific officer of at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) at Cambridge, England. BAS is one of the world's leading environmental research centers and is responsible for the UK's national scientific activities in Antarctica.
WellWise.org has requested the documentation from Leape and the AKCP upon which it bases its position. As yet, none has been offered. However, Dr. Hill told WellWise.org that he is the author on one of the key documents AKCP cites to support the case. "I would not agree that this document provides irrefutable evidence that the fishery is not sustainable, rather it contributes to the scientific basis for developing the fishery in a sustainable way," he said.
Krill Oil Sustainability Limit Set by CCAMLR
CCAMLR has set strict limits on the allowable catch of Antarctic krill – 3.47 million metric tons per year. Besides this, it has set a “precautionary” limit of 620,000 metric tons, only 18 percent of what was originally determined to be a safe, sustainable total harvest. The organization set this limit in the wake of uncertainties as to how climate change might affect the total biomass.
Secondly, even further safeguards have been put into place, mandating that when the catch reaches a “trigger level” of just 620,000 metric tons the fishery must close until the overall remaining catch is reallocated over smaller areas within Area 48, where most of the krill harvest is taking place.
Here’s the real clincher: The average annual catch level for the past 10 years is only 118,000 metric tons. This means that current catch levels are only about four percent of the allowable catch.
It appears it may be an uphill battle for Whole Foods to make a credible case against stocking krill oil on its shelves.