Supermarkets criticised for unsustainable use of krill

Campaigners are calling for a ban on the use of krill to feed farmed fish, which they say is damaging critical marine ecosystems and contributing to climate change.

An investigation by the Changing Markets Foundation found that European retailers, including several in the UK, are routinely selling farmed fish that use Antarctic krill – a tiny crustacean that experts say is critical for planetary health. A report also found that almost half (48%) of European retailers studied were found to be selling health supplements containing krill oil.

The NGO claimed that products sold by Asda, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s and Tesco were linked to krill feed sourced by Norwegian company Aker BioMarine in their salmon supply chains, and said that none have adopted policies that exclude the use of krill in the feed used to produce their own branded salmon products.

In a separate statement to celebrate world krill day on August 11th, WWF-UK chief polar advisor Rod Downie described Antarctic krill as “the centre of life above the ocean floor, feeding vast populations of penguins, seals and other marine life”. Downie noted how Antarctic blue whales – the largest animals on Earth – depend on krill.

He added that krill also “play a critical role in drawing down and storing vast quantities of carbon into the deep ocean, helping to maintain a stable climate”.

Changing Markets accused the krill industry of downplaying environmental concerns with heavy greenwashing and marketing techniques, such as self-created ecolabels, that hide its ecological impacts.

It also criticised the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), whose certification it said “fails to take into account the effects of climate change and the impact of the fisheries as a whole on predators, and ignores our limited understanding of krill’s life cycle and its importance to the Antarctic food web”.

As a consequence, Changing Markets said the MSC certification “provides a cover for the industry and further hinders broader and deeper discussion about the sustainability of the fishery”.

In response the MSC said its certification provides “the highest assurance of the sustainability of these operations” and said the report “misrepresents the requirements of MSC certification, failing to acknowledge the extreme level of scrutiny and verification required for fisheries to be certified” (The full MSC statement is at the end of the article).  

Changing Markets said aquafeed and aquaculture companies should stop using Antarctic krill and switch to more sustainable alternatives. It also called on retailers to stop sales of krill-based health supplements and adopt policies to phase out krill from the farmed-seafood products on their shelves.

“Krill fishing is an inherently destructive and unprofitable industry with a remarkable display of smoke and mirrors to hide the real environmental impact of its operations. On the first ever global krill day we urge supermarkets to stop selling krill-based products,” said Sophie Nodzenski, senior campaigner at the Changing Markets Foundation.

MSC response to Changing Markets Foundation report

“It is essential that krill fishing in the Antarctic is conducted with the utmost precaution ensuring that enough krill remain to support a healthy Antarctic ecosystem. MSC certification provides the highest assurance of the sustainability of these operations.  

The Changing Markets Foundation’s report misrepresents the requirements of MSC certification, failing to acknowledge the extreme level of scrutiny and verification required for fisheries to be certified.   

For low trophic fisheries, such as those catching krill, certification requires meeting specific highly precautionary requirements to ensure that fishing does not adversely impact species further up the food chain. Stock assessments, which are the basis of fisheries management and certification, must also take account of uncertainties such as the impacts of climate change. To be certified fisheries must have effective management and governance systems which regularly review the impacts of fishing, adapting practices where necessary and ensuring they remain sustainable in a changing environment. 

MSC certified Antarctic krill fisheries have continued to score highly to the MSC’s global bar for sustainability for more than 10 years, undergoing regular independent auditing and reassessment. These fisheries avoid bycatch, contribute to extensive scientific research and have catch levels well below what would be regarded as a precautionary level relevant to the size of the krill stock. Should new evidence that fishing activity is jeopardising the health of marine populations arise, these fisheries would no longer be eligible for MSC certification.” 

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