Some companies manufacturing and selling nutrient supplements are replacing the omega 3-source krill oil with other alternatives due to pressure from environmental NGOs linked to krill fishing’s effects on Antarctic ecosystems.

UK health food shop chain Holland & Barrett in April 2018 announced it would replace krill oil supplements with algal oil-based omega 3 products and other fish alternatives on the back of a March Greenpeace report on krill fishing’s impact in the Arctic, wrote Nutraingredients on 19 June.

Greenpeace was also calling for UK pharmacy chain Boots to phase out krill oil, while American grocery store franchise Whole Food Market had already stopped using krill oil years ago.

Krill are tiny crustaceans that are an essential source of food for many forms of Antarctic sea life, including many endangered baleen whales.

The Greenpeace report, ‘License to Krill’, claimed that the krill fishing industry, which had been growing steadily since 2010, was threatening krill stocks in crucial marine feeding areas and that risks posed by fishing vessels – such as groundings or oil spills – could destroy pristine Antarctic environments.

“Boots and other retailers can use their buying power to influence the krill industry, calling on the fishing companies they source krill from to respect the precautionary principle and cease fishing in sensitive Arctic waters,” Louisa Casson, campaigner for Greenpeace UK’s oceans team, told Nutraingredients in April.

“To demonstrate their support for a network of marine sanctuaries in the Antarctic through action, responsible retailers should ensure that they aren’t sourcing products fished from areas under formal consideration as marine protected areas (MPA).”

In response, Boots said it sold a tiny portion of the annual krill catch, equalling roughly 0.5% of the total estimated biomass of Antarctic krill.

Cilia Holmes Idahl, sustainability director at Norwegian fishing firm Aker BioMarine, said the company supported the establishment of MPAs and that krill was being fished in a very vulnerable ecosystem, but added that the company believed fisheries could co-exist with MPAs.

Additionally, Ellen Schutt, interim executive director for the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3 (GOED), said there was “robust evidence” that that Antarctic krill was a well-regulated fishery.

“The fishery is MSC-certified and has strong oversight by the Commission on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. Catch limits for krill are less than 1% of the stock biomass, far below even the ‘precautionary principle’ catch limits,” said Schutt.

According to Phil Trathan, head of conservation biology for the British Antarctic Survey, studies over the past 25 years had found little evidence for declining krill stocks, which today were level with those measured in 2000.

He added that the implementation of coastal buffers and other management measures was ongoing due a potential risk that the Antarctic krill fishery could come into competition with wildlife, such as whaled, penguins, fish and seabirds.

The debate on krill oil was part of a larger question about the sustainability of marine omega 3s, which also touched on fish such as anchovies and pollock that were facing overfishing.