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.