Thursday, January 3, 2013

Stealing Food from the Whales? Sustainable Krill? (Part III)

Sigh... just like everything has 2-sides to a coin... and that's why Mom has always struggled with herself whether to feed us marine animals' oil or not. And now she kinda feels so guilty getting krill oil for us having seen the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) post on Facebook today.

''Not content with just killing the whales with harpoons, the Japanese and the Norwegians fisheries are now stealing the food from the whales. Antarctic krill are being dangerously over exploited and for what? The benefits of krill oil are dubious, just another snake oil medicine. Humanity is eating the oceans, consuming everything from plankton to the great whales. We are contributing to escalating diminishment of bio-diversity in our oceans. If the oceans die, we die'' - Captain Paul Watson of SSCS

On one hand, reports say the harvesting of krill (oil) is closely monitored by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) and total harvesting is only 0.02 percent of the total biomass estimate. On the other hand, critics are saying there is not enough to meet the growing demand.

We know most of you wouldn't be bothered with eco-issues like these. But just in case you do... below are some good reads. Now, Mom will just give us one capsule per week each... she just feels so torn and guilty.

Stealing Food from the Whales

WHEN did humans decide consuming whale food was a good idea?
That it was some sort of multi-vitamin cure-all that will reduce everything from blood pressure to cholesterol; help alleviate PMS or add muscle strength; improve cognitive function and brain health.
Is there anything krill oil supplements can’t do?

Fish oil supplements have been trendy for quite a while now because of the belief omega-3 fatty acids were beneficial particularly in lowering blood pressure – thus benefiting the heart. This despite the fact a recent extensive study found they actually may have no more benefit than a placebo in preventing death or serious cardiovascular disease.

And according to British scientist and nutrition expert Tom Sanders, from Kings College in London, the benefits of fish-oil supplements are over-rated.

“Rather than a passport to good health, fish-oil pills are more like snake oil,” he wrote. “I’ve been researching the health benefits of fish and fish-oil supplements, which contain long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, for more than 30 years.

“What I have found is that, although fish-oil supplements have a role to play for some people, they have been over-hyped and over-sold.”

Now krill oil is growing in popularity, reportedly because it has similar benefits to fish oil but is even more effective.

But is it really, and is fishing the Southern Ocean for tonnes of krill per year for use in supplements – as well as for fishmeal – more destructive than the positives provide?

Now, with a growing market for krill supplements, what is the future for this tiny crustacean which remains the main diet for whales, penguins, seals, squid and other fish?

In 2010, for the first time, part of the Antarctic krill fishery had to be closed because the catch limit was reached. Quotas continue to grow yet scientific studies to determine what effects, if any, fishing is having on the population have not been undertaken and there remains uncertainly as to the future of krill numbers.

Humans really don’t have a good track record in showing restraint, particularly when it comes to hunting. Massive over-fishing is having detrimental effects in many parts of the world and has done for decades. When profit is the over-riding factor, the chances of greed and vested interests muddying the waters grow.
Currently the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society – a group of environmentalists from across the world – are traversing waters in the Antarctic in an attempt to stop Japanese whalers from harpooning more than 1000 whales during their annual hunt.

While the Japanese say they are only hunting their quota for scientific reasons, the most dubious of claims, there is little doubt the whale meat is used for human consumption. But do the Japanese need whale meat in order to survive? Likewise, do any of us really need fish or krill oil to survive?
It’s a noble mission by the Sea Shepherd’s crew. Anyone who has seen how the whales are slaughtered, the length of time it takes for them to die and undoubtedly the suffering that goes with it, would find it hard to disagree.

And all the while the same Antarctic waters which have become a battleground in defence of the whales are being harvested for krill – the staple diet of the very animal in the firing line.
But for how long? What if our estimates of quotas end up being wrong? How can we really know what impact we are having on krill numbers when there is no scientific data available?
It just doesn’t seem to make sense. Protecting the whales is one thing, but when are we going to start protecting their food source?

Krill Kill?

Every once in a while, issues surface that expose the differences and polarize factions within the natural and healthy lifestyle community. One of the more recent topics that falls into this category is krill.

For those of you who missed the reference to krill in Pixar’s “Finding Nemo” tale, krill are several varieties of related oceanic species that sit just above plankton on the food chain.

Although the shrimp-like krill are small in size, they are amazingly abundant—to the point where they make up the primary food source for animals ranging from small fish to the world’s largest mammal.

Their role in nature is to convert teeny, tiny phytoplankton (that specialize in converting sunlight to stored energy) to recognizable food for animals equipped to feed on them—fish and sea mammals, specifically, but also penguins, gulls, and squid. The flesh of salmon, in particular, reflects the coloration of krill, a manifestation of the fish’s primary food source.

According to several sources, the total weight of the world’s krill population exceeds that of every other animal on Earth. So with annual harvesting estimated at 0.02 percent of the world supply, why is krill such an emotionally charged issue?

The answer is twofold: Humans have decided that krill makes a terrific food for aquatic agriculture, and the ongoing search for better sources of omega-3 fatty acids has greatly increased the harvest in the past 10 to 15 years. (We’ll set aside the fish oil vs. krill oil health-benefits debate, for now.)

Although krill’s aggressive digestive enzymes and fluoride-rich shell make them difficult, if not impossible, to market as food for humans, they are a strong source of omega-3 fatty acids and the powerful antioxidant astaxanthan (which also naturally prevents the product from spoiling). The fact that they are harvested far away from civilization, in the seas near Antarctica, lends to the perception that krill oil is less tainted by toxins.

An out-of-control krill harvest could be disastrous for the world’s ecosystem. Many species depend upon krill for food. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) of Norway, the ecological impact of krill harvesting is minimal. According to researchers, however, the effect of competition for the easy-to-catch krill near the surface is still unclear.

Skeptics look to past lessons, where we learned the effects of over-harvesting resources too late and put species at risk. Putting krill at risk could start a chain reaction with devastating consequences… but that is not currently the case according to WWF. Political, environmental, and industrial factions have come together in advance to study and plan the harvesting of krill to manage the impact of fishing.

Could the krill harvest become a critical issue for the environment? Yes. Does it currently deserve public awareness, watchdog action, and regulation? Definitely. Could it evolve into one of the world’s most important natural resources? Possibly. With further research and development, we’ll see. In the meantime, don’t feel guilty about taking your krill oil supplements.

Is Krill Oil Sustainable?

 Antarctic krill oil sustainability: Is there enough to meet growing demand?
Most of the krill being harvested for its oil (Euphausia superba) swarm in the waters of the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica (although these are not the only source for the coveted ingredients in the oil (phospholipid-bonded omega-3s, astaxanthin and choline, for instance). 
Krill feed on the summer blooms of algae that grow on and in the Antarctic ice.

Because Antarctic krill are so important to so many other species, in 1982 United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Chile, European Community, Germany and Japan formed a treaty organization to ensure that krill were being harvested sustainably.  Named the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR-pronounced camel-lahr), it now manages the fin fish (mostly toothfish) and krill fisheries in the Southern Ocean. Scientists from many of the CCAMLR member nations conduct research in the Southern Ocean and make recommendations to CCAMLR that enable the organization to make management decisions. Currently there are 25 Members of CCAMLR, 24 member states and the European Community.
There has been considerable discussion about sustainability of the Antarctic krill fisheries. Even the United Nations, through its Food and Agriculture Organization, has expressed concern about the effects of global warming on fisheries such as krill.
Today, because of CCAMLR, the Antarctic krill fishery has numerous controls in place, and scientists have taken a “precautionary” approach, determining the allowable tonnage and the specific areas where krill can be harvested without irreversible effects on the ecosystem.

However, there is still a way to go to ensure that controls that apply to the krill fishery are commensurate with those that apply to the CCAMLR fin-fish fisheries. The actual krill catch is far below the total allowable catch, but some scientists say that the most significant issue for krill populations is concentration of the catch in one area, which can have significant impacts on the ecosystem. In recognition of impacts on related and dependent species, CCAMLR has introduced ‘trigger levels’ and, most recently, subdivision of the trigger level to allow some spatial distribution of the krill catch.

According to Nina Jensen conservation director of the World Wildlife Fund (in an interview with NutraIngredients' Shane Starling), the krill fishery is "the world's largest underexploited fishery," and from what we know now, is highly sustainable. She notes that the total biomass of krill is estimated to be between between 50-500 million tonnes. The most current estimate is 133 million tonnes, and the current fishery is taking only around 200,000 tonnes of that. This amounts to only about 0.02 percent of the total biomass estimate. 
Jensen says, "There are quite a few dramatic stories circulating around that aren't really describing an accurate picture" of the fishery.
2012 Krill Quota Update
Total 2011/2012 quota for krill harvest in the oceans around Antarctica has been set at 5.61 million tons, which is the same as in 2010. The quota is well within the bounds of precautionary limits, according to  CCAMLR, the international convention for the protection of krill and other marine life in the Antarctic oceans.

Norway accounts for more than 50% of the krill harvest. The krill catch of the three Norwegian vessels is around 103,000 tons according to the preliminary 2010/2011 capture reports.

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