Overexploitation Watch: Antarctic Krill

Sea Shepherd has a pretty depressing report on the factory ships they have seen plying Antarctic waters and scooping up krill:

The area where we found the krill fishing vessels was incredibly close to the Antarctic Peninsula and the South Shetland Islands that are dotted with penguin rookeries and fur seal haul-outs. This gives a full overlap between the fishery and the foraging ranges of land-based predators like the penguins (Gentoo, Chinstrap, Adelie and Macaroni), which cannot move to other locations. Even if there is still plenty of Krill around, both predators and fishing vessels will concentrate on the highest densities and therefore directly compete. The surrounding waters are cruised by seven species of Baleen whales. The ice floes in these waters function as resting places for Crabeater and Leopard seals. All these animals depend directly or indirectly on Krill as their food source. The true seals have flourished and the fur seals were able to bounce back from near-extinction when the Antarctic waters were emptied of the Krill-gorging baleen whales during the whaling era (early 1900s until the 1980s). The competition eliminated, more food became available for them, but a decline in Krill will eventually hit all animals in the Antarctic, even flying birds and fish, and will prevent the great whales from returning to pre-exploitation numbers.

Krill is called the single largest under-utilized commercial marine resource remaining, because the global quota set is not yet reached, but expansion of the fishery seems inevitable. The fishery was kept in check by the distance and inhospitality of Antarctica’s waters, the fact that Krill are highly perishable once killed and that consumer interest was limited. Aquaculture feed demand is on the rise however, rapid on-board processing techniques have dealt with the quick spoiling and new products are being developed. The Krill fishery is the continuation of a trend in the history of fishing. We fish further and further away from home and we fish further and further down the food chain. You can’t get much further away as Antarctica and you can’t get much further down the food web than Krill. We are reaching the end.

Worth thinking about the next time someone tells you that fish farming is sustainable. Everywhere you look, new species, and new resources, are being exploited for commercial purposes. Each one is unique, and each one has its own special role in the ecosystem, and it seems impossible to keep up with, and blunt or even slow the insatiable grind of industry and its quest for new profits.

How is it that we have created an international system of politics and economics that completely fails to value and protect these resources?


The only way, really, to address these endless and destructive forays into nature’s delicate balance, the only way to imagine that all these extraordinary natural resources can be defended, is to change the culture that lies behind them.  That is the only global solution, but it will take a revolution in thinking and values.

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