Antarctic Krill Fishing

Krill is one of the key species in the sensitive ecosystem in Antarctica. The small crustaceans are the main food source for whales, penguins and seals that live there. Life on and under the ice is unthinkable without krill. Healthy krill populations are the basis of nutrition at the South Pole. Krill provides 96% of the calorie requirements for various seabirds and mammals on the Antarctic Peninsula.

Climate change is causing the polar ice caps to melt and ice areas to shrink. The melting ice has an impact on the crustaceans that lay their eggs in Antarctica and have to feed there during the winter. The temperature continues to rise year after year and the consequences for the krill to survive there are becoming more and more extreme. In addition, industrial krill fishing is rapidly expanding and is spreading further and further in Antarctica. Since the 1970s, the amount of krill in our oceans has decreased by 80%.

Norway is at the forefront of the global krill fishing market. In addition to Norway, other countries that have fished in Antarctic waters in the past decade include China, South Korea, Japan, Russia, Ukraine, Poland and Chile.
Russia, which dominated Antarctica’s krill fishery under the Soviet Union in the 1980s, has also invested over 600 million euros in krill fishing and commissioned five new, heavyweight fishing vessels. This is worrying because all decisions of the Antarctic Commission (CCAMLR) must be unanimously approved by its members, and since 2017 Russia, along with China, has consistently vetoed any new marine protected areas in Antarctica that would affect krill fisheries in any way. In November 2022, they did it again at CCAMLR’s annual meeting, insisting that it was in the krill fishing industry’s own interest to regulate itself in a sustainable manner.

The demand for fish continues to rise worldwide, but fish stocks are already largely overfished. Krill is therefore often used as additional feed for farmed fish, especially in salmon farms. Consumers who think they are protecting wild populations by eating farmed fish don’t realize that they are still harming the fish and krill in the ocean.
According to a report by Global Industry Analysts, the market share for krill oil will increase from 500 million euros to over 880 million euros in the next few years. Fish farming (where, as mentioned, krill is used as feed) is the world’s fastest growing food sector.

Krill is also uselessly processed into dog and cat food or farmed salmon is colored with it. For human consumption, the crustaceans are offered as superfluous dietary supplements by coming onto the market in capsule form as a source of omega-3 fatty acids. The biggest buyers for this are the USA, China and Germany.
Omega-3 fatty acids are of course indispensable for the human organism, there is no doubt about that. Normally, however, the daily requirement is already covered by a balanced diet, regardless of whether it consists fish or meat or it is vegetarian or vegan. If you still need additional Omega-3, you can easily find equivalent plant-based alternatives, such as linseed oil or algae-based products.
The fact that krill is a growth market has more to do with clever advertising than with actual demand. The marketing for omega-3 pills is even advertising with emperor penguins on the packaging. In other words, exactly those animals whose valuable food is fished away from their beaks by the ton.

Krill fishing is also problematic for another reason and that is the specific nature of the terrain. Because the fishing grounds in Antarctica are so remote, most krill trawlers regularly hand over their cargo to huge reefers. These bring the catch to shore while the trawlers themselves stay on site and continue fishing. The krill fishing vessels often anchor in protected waters during reloading, which means that the habitat on the seabed can be severely damaged by the anchors. This specifically ignores the recommendation of the Antarctic Commission CCAMLR to avoid exactly this.

Despite assurances of sustainability, fishing companies have no regard for the habitat. Krill fishing occurs particularly on the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula and overlaps heavily with wildlife feeding areas.

The delicate ecological balance in Antarctica needs protection. Antarctica and its inhabitants are suffering greatly from global warming and industrial krill fishing. Avoiding fish products and establishing new marine protected areas would prevent krill fishing from penetrating further into ice-free areas.

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