Antarctic krill

Why is krill so important?

Krill is a small crustacean and a keystone species in the Antarctic ecosystem, they are the main food source for whales, seals, penguins and other species.

It is essential that krill fishing is conducted in a sustainable way, informed by science and research. Krill are rich in Omega-3 phospholipids and the naturally occurring antioxidant Astaxanthin. Krill is processed to form krill oil, sold as a liquid or in capsules for its health benefits. Krill meal and oil are also used in aquaculture and animal feed. 

Fishing in the Antarctic is regulated by the Commission of Antarctic Marine Living Resource (CCAMLR). The CCAMLR was set up precisely to forestall the unregulated expansion of fisheries. It is a legally binding international convention between 25 countries to ensure the conservation of the Antarctic ecoystems. 

The MSC welcomes the continuing debate over how all relevant stakeholders manage the krill population within the Antarctic.  

Should we be eating krill at all?

The market for krill oil is increasing due to the high level of omega-3 fatty acids, krill oil is used in nutritional supplements. With the demand increasing the fisheries who generate the oil used in them should be well managed and closely monitored.

The MSC’s wider programme is focused on ensuring that fish and fish products are managed sustainably so that people can enjoy them in years to come.  

Can we be sure that Krill is well managed?

At current levels, Antarctic krill is one of the world’s most underexploited marine stocks. Since 1994, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) has set total allowable catch limits for the entire Antarctic. Recognising the need to protect krill populations, which are a vital source of food to other wildlife, CCAMLR has set trigger catch limits at one percent of the total estimated biomass (620,000 tonnes). 

Current krill catch in the fishery area (CCAMLR Area 48) represents around 0.4% (212,000 tonnes) of the total krill biomass (60.3 million tonnes) and 34% of the trigger catch limit. At these rates fishing has a minimal impact on predators and other species in the food chain. 

It is possible that climate change and other environmental effects may have an impact on krill biomass. That is why is it important for krill fisheries to be managed at their current precautionary levels, keeping catch low. A new stock assessment on krill would help to address this uncertainty. 

Will there be a new ‘Gold Rush’ on krill?

Past predictions of a major increase in krill fishing have proven to be unfounded. People have warned of massive increase in krill fishing since the 1990s and it still hasn’t happened.  

In fact catch levels have been stable at low levels for 20 years. The chart below shows the long term catch levels within a thirty year period. 

Bar graph showing the catch history of Euphausia superba
Data taken from

Can we be sure that MSC certified krill is sustainable?

Norway’s Aker Biomarine fishery first achieved MSC certification in June 2010 and achieved MSC re-certification in August 2015. The fishery like all MSC certified fisheries is checked annually by independent auditors (known as conformity assessment bodies). The fishery had an audit in July 2017, the report is open to all.

The report concluded that from a stock assessment and management perspective the krill fishery is well managed both scientifically and administratively. It uses precautionary biomass limits and strong formal management rules are in place. There are also observers on one hundred percent of the fishery’s boats in order to check their catch levels. 

Should there be a new Ocean Sanctuary in The Antarctic?

It is for CCAMLR to decide on the nature and scope of marine protected areas (MPA). MSC certified fisheries would comply with the regulations of any new MPA that was created by CCMLAR.



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