Leading supermarkets and salmon farming companies have been accused of “plundering” the Antarctic for krill and depriving whales, seals and penguins of food.
An investigation by the campaign group, Changing Markets, said that Asda, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s and Tesco sold farmed salmon fed on krill.
Two multinationals that own salmon farms in Scotland — Bakkafrost and Lerøy Seafood — were also alleged to use krill in fish feed.
Krill are tiny crustaceans vital to the global environment, providing sustenance for marine animals and helping to slow climate change by storing carbon. But they are being fished in increasing numbers in the Antarctic to feed farmed salmon and to provide dietary supplements.
The industry argues that krill fishing is sustainable, only taking a small proportion of an abundant species. But campaigners disagree, saying that krill are being impacted by climate change and fishing them should be banned.
A new report from Changing Markets, is entitled “Krill, baby, krill: The corporations profiting from plundering Antarctica”. It claimed to provide details for the first time of the global supply chains for krill.
The report concluded that farmed salmon fed by krill are routinely sold by 16 leading supermarkets in four European countries. In the UK it named Asda, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s and Tesco as being linked to krill feed.
It said that no supermarkets had adopted policies excluding the use of krill in the feed used to produce their own branded salmon products. The report also highlighted that krill oil dietary supplements were sold by most of the world’s 50 largest retailers.
The report identified five major European salmon farming companies which it said used krill in fish feed. One was the Faroese giant, Bakkafrost, which owns The Scottish Salmon Company, with 53 marine and freshwater sites on the west coast of Scotland and the Outer Hebrides.
“By continuing to sell krill-fed farmed salmon and pricey krill oil supplements leading supermarkets are complicit in depleting the main source of food for whales, seals and penguins, animals that are already under extreme pressure from global heating,” said Sophie Nodzenski, senior campaigner with Changing Markets.
“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. We urge supermarkets to stop selling krill-based products.”
Nodzenski warned that plans to double the production of farmed salmon in Scotland would increase the demand for krill from the Antarctic. “Fish farms must phase out the use of wild-caught fish, including krill,” she urged.
The Changing Markets report said that two firms with salmon farms in Scotland — Mowi and Cooke Aquaculture — did not use krill. It claimed that Mowi was “not convinced of the cost-versus-benefit of using krill as a feed material.”
According to the report, most krill is sourced from the Norwegian company, Aker BioMarine, which catches two thirds of the krill taken from the Antarctic. The report accused the company of “greenwashing” by downplaying the damaging impacts of krill fishing.
“The industry has also been pushing the narrative that the current catch limit is precautionary because it is only one per cent of the krill biomass,” it said.
“But this fails to reflect its impact on the vulnerable Antarctic ecosystem, particularly in the face of accelerating climate change.”
There was an “illusion of sustainability” created by industry-funded research and enabled by the Marine Stewardship Council, the report argued. The council has certified krill-based products as sustainable, despite repeated objections by campaigners.
The report said that the Antarctic was becoming “unstable” because of climate change. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has questioned the sustainability of krill harvesting in its latest report.
Some scientists have pointed out that krill fishing areas overlap with feeding grounds for marine species such as penguins. They have suggested that curbs on fishing in key areas could help prevent penguin populations from declining.
Licence to krill
The Scottish salmon farming campaigner, Don Staniford, called for the salmon industry’s “licence to krill” to be immediately revoked. “The use of Antarctic krill in farmed salmon feed is ethically and ecologically bankrupt,” he said.
Aker BioMarine denied any greenwashing, stressing that science and certification showed that the krill fishery was sustainable. “But we always aim to improve, and we know that we have a responsibility to make the right decisions to secure a positive impact in a period when climate and nature is changing fast,” said the company’s vice president, Pål Einar Skogrand.
“This is why we are happy to engage actively and transparently with stakeholders, also from the UK and Scotland, to ensure best practice in the krill fishery in the Antarctic.”
Aker BioMarine also provided a comment from the Marine Stewardship Council’s North Atlantic programme director, Gísli Gíslason. “The fishery is managed within a precautionary and ecosystem approach,” he said.
“The fishery is operating at catch levels well below what would generally be regarded as a precautionary upper level relative to the best estimates available of stock size.”
The British Retail Consortium (BRC), which represents supermarkets, pointed out that the Antarctic krill fishery was managed by international scientists and certified by international organisations. “With less than one per cent of the total estimated krill population of the Antarctic being currently harvested, these organisations consider Antarctic krill are being fished at sustainable levels,” it said.
BRC’s sustainability advisor, Leah Riley Brown, added: “BRC members are committed to sourcing marine products responsibly and working with suppliers and stakeholders to ensure the products they sell meet customer expectations on sustainability.”
A spokesperson for Marks & Spencer said: “We are committed to the highest standards of responsible sourcing and Antarctic krill makes up less than one per cent of the feed for our salmon.
“Any Antarctic krill used is Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified and sourced from a supplier which has been awarded an A-rating from the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership.”
Asda and Sainsbury’s deferred to the BRC statement. Tesco has been asked to comment.
Salmon Scotland, which represents salmon farming companies, stressed that the Antarctic krill fishery was one of the world’s most sustainable and highly protected fisheries with international rules allowing only one per cent of the total krill population to be caught.
A spokesperson said: “Krill is not widely used in the Scottish salmon sector and any that is used in feed comes from MSC certified sustainable fisheries, ensuring that marine animals that feed on krill are not impacted.”
Bakkafrost and Scottish Sea Farms have also been asked to comment.
Mowi’s spokesperson, Ian Roberts, said: “Mowi cannot confirm the accuracy of a report not yet published nor reviewed.”