Austin, TX—Whole Foods Market, based here, announced in May that it would halt the sale of krill oil because of sustainability issues.

Certain predatory sea animals (like whales, penguins and seals) rely on krill for food, and the population of these animals is declining in areas where krill are fished. The store believes this suggests that “fishery management needs to better understand how to evaluate the prey requirements of other marine species in order to set sustainable catch levels for krill.” Until it evaluates the sustainability of its supply, the chain will refuse to sell this omega-3 supplement that is growing in popularity.

Information from krill oil supplier, Aker BioMarine, points in the opposite direction. Says Matts Johansen, executive vice president of sales and marketing, “We understand that most companies, including Whole Foods Market and the majority of our customers, are interested in learning more about the sustainability of the products they purchase…Since our founding, Aker BioMarine has proactively adopted the highest standards in environmentally sustainable management of krill resources to ensure that we maintain the health of krill populations and their ecosystems. “Aker’s Superba Pure Krill Oil is produced with what it calls “EcoHarvesting,” meaning that it uses only sustainable harvesting practices while preventing degradation of the nutrients found in krill. The process, says Johansen, “allows us to optimize krill catch, and protect other marine-life.  It also produces a superior product:  the fishing equipment stays under water while a continuous stream of water flows through the hose, bringing the krill live and fresh directly into the factory vessel, which allows for processing of fresh raw material with superior product quality.”

Valensa, another krill oil supplier, also says its fishing practices are sustainable. Says Rudi E. Moerck, Ph.D., the firm’s president and CEO, “In 2009, when Valensa first considered becoming a supplier of products containing krill oil, we conducted a thorough examination of the sustainability of this biomass. After a thorough review, we consider krill to be a non-exploited marine biomass. Of the nearly 500 million tons of krill found in the oceans, less than 200,000 tons (0.04%) are harvested annually.” He also makes the point that Antarctic krill have an “ultra-fast growth rate.”

Krill suppliers are also quick to point out certifications that prove their supply sustainability. Aker BioMarine, for instance, says it meets all environmental guidelines set by the international regulator of krill fisheries and the Commission on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).  And at the end of May, the company became the first krill fishery to become certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), a much sought-after designation that indicates environmental sustainability.

Anthony Bimbo, managing director of International Fisheries Technology, raises the point while promoting sustainability fishing practices with certifications can be beneficial, the number of certifiers is problematic. It’s not clear who should regulate them or what happens when the certifiers’ principles are different. He noted that the result is a “big business” of certifying such firms with associated fees and varying opinions from other groups. “In other words, if a company or fishery embarks on the certification process which could take years and cost a lot of money, there is no guarantee that another NGO will not place that fishery on its RED LIST. For example, Greenpeace with the Alaska Pollock fishery and New Zealand Hoki fishery and now with its red list of supermarkets,” he told WholeFoods, also wondering, “Perhaps, Whole Foods dropped krill oil to protect its standing on the Greenpeace Supermarket Sustainability Chart.” In this very visible report, Whole Foods Market topped the list, with a score of 36.5% (see August 2008, WholeFoods, p. 10).


Published in WholeFoods Magazine, July 2010 (published ahead of print on May 27, 2010)