By Dr. Mercola
Krill are tiny shrimp-like crustaceans that live in the ocean.
They are plentiful; packed with nutrients, and, according to some, might be a possible fix for world hunger.
A U.N. report has predicted worldwide starvation by the year 2050 if we do not alter how and what we eat, and a growing number of people are looking to krill as the solution.
Krill have already served as a food source for many years in Russia, Korea and Japan.
They are a rich source of high-quality protein and omega-3 fats, and because of their huge numbers and short lifespan, krill is a nearly endless renewable source of protein.
"These benefits, along with sky-high antioxidant levels, have earned krill the nickname the 'magicians' of the ocean.
Meanwhile, the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization notes that as other food resources shrink, 'there will be greater emphasis on harvesting species such as krill' and that 'developments in food technology may result in more rapid cost-effective forms of krill for human consumption.'"
However, not everyone agrees. Some have raised concerns that over harvesting krill, which is at the bottom of the food chain, could have dire repercussions for wildlife. Fortunately, such concerns are largely unfounded, and, as you will see, measures are firmly in place to prevent the possibility of over harvesting. If anything, sport fishing poses a much greater threat than supplement makers and any eventual restaurants serving krill dishes…
Could Krill Replace Other Seafood?
Of the global krill catch, about 45 percent is used for sport fishing bait, 43 percent for aquaculture feed, and only 12 percent of the global catch is used for human consumption, primarily in the form of supplements. There are about 85 species of krill, but the species found in the Southern Ocean off of Antarctica, Euphausia superba, is the one being harvested for human consumption.
In terms of nutrition, krill does pack a wallop. One 2007 study published in Nutrition Reviews found that:
"Krill is a rich source of high-quality protein, with the advantage over other animal proteins of being low in fat and a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. Antioxidant levels in krill are higher than in fish, suggesting benefits against oxidative damage. Finally, the waste generated by the processing of krill into edible products can be developed into value-added products."
The downside is that, with few exceptions, krill has not been a traditional staple of the human diet, and many may therefore resist it. The tide could turn, however, as the success of one restaurant has shown. Eon Coffee in Hayward, California claims to be the sole eatery in the United States serving krill; adding the tiny crustaceans to wraps, salads and Panini's. According to the manager, krill is "just like a tiny shrimp, but without much flavor." As such, it's an easy way to amp up the nutrient content of most meals.
But, if you consume krill, whether on a sandwich or in the form of a supplement, are you endangering the welfare of hundreds of birds and marine animals by 'stealing' their primary food source?
Could turning krill into a staple in the human diet deal a devastating blow to the rest of the food chain? If I thought this was true, my conscience would not allow me to promote krill. But based on the evidence, the chance of over harvesting krill is extremely slim, even if harvesting was increased rather dramatically. There's a very big margin built into the current regulations.
Why Chances of Over-Harvesting Krill are Slim
First of all, krill is the largest biomass in the world. If you were to weigh the population of any animal on earth -- any fish, whale, insect, bird, rat, or even humans -- krill would still weigh the most. There are simply more krill on the planet than any other creature, so they are in no danger of over harvesting anytime soon. Secondly, krill harvesting is one of the best regulated on the planet, using strict international precautionary catch limit regulations that are reviewed regularly to assure sustainability.
Krill can be found in all oceans, but Antarctic krill is by far the most abundant.
The Antarctic krill biomass is under the management of an international body of 25 countries called the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). This is the ONLY official and reliable international organism involved in the management of sustainable krill fishery and the monitoring of krill stock, and no shortage of krill has ever been forecasted by CCAMLR.
Likewise, declines in krill catches, such as reported in 1992, have all been due to economic factors, and had nothing to do with an actual decline in the stocks of krill available for fishing. For example, at that time, many krill fisheries shifted over to finfish fisheries, and the break-up of the Soviet Union, which had dominated the krill fishing industry, resulted in reduced krill catches. In 1998 the economic crisis in Asia also reduced the demand for krill.
Krill Harvesting is Eco-Friendly
To assure sustainability and minimize risks associated with harvesting practices in conditions of uncertainty, the CCAMLR implemented a strict precautionary approach. It's an 'ecosystem approach,' meaning it takes into account ecological links between different species and natural variability, such as the natural, cyclical rise and fall in reproduction of a species, for example.
Studies show the biomass of Antarctic krill ranges from 170 million to 740 million tons, averaging around 420 million tons; a standing stock with an annual reproduction rate of several hundred million tons. Antarctic krill harvesting began in 1961, and the mean annual catch rate from 2002 to 2007 was less than 120,000 tons a year.
This ensures a very large standing stock of renewable krill for both natural predators and human use.
To put this into further perspective, the precautionary catch limit for 2008 set by the CCAMLR, based on recent surveys of krill stock, was 6.6 million tons. This catch limit takes into account the ecosystem as a whole to protect the environment, but even at that, less than two percent of the precautionary catch limit has actually been harvested on any given year!
Since there are about 4,000 times more krill than is being harvested, it should be comforting to know that harvesting is taking a very small fraction of the total amount of krill available. So harvesting does not pose a threat to whales and other animals that depend on krill for sustenance. With the estimated baleen whale consumption being approximately 85 million tons per year, the actual mean total annual catch equals a mere 0.14 percent of the whales' consumption.
Krill Oil is Your BEST Source of Omega-3s
While you may not relish the idea of eating krill whole, krill oil most certainly has a valuable role to play in your diet in the form of a supplement. In my view, krill oil is by far your best option when it comes to obtaining the important high quality animal based omega-3 fats you and your family needs. In a perfect world, you would be able to get all the omega-3s you need by eating fish. Unfortunately, the vast majority of our fish supply is now so heavily contaminated with industrial pollutants and toxins like mercury, PCBs, heavy metals and radioactive poisons that I just can't recommend it any longer.
So, that leaves you with fish oil or krill oil supplements as options to get your animal-based omega-3 fats—unless you embrace the idea of using whole krill in your cooking.
When compared to fish oil, krill oil is a clear winner as it has many benefits fish oil cannot compete with. For example, krill oil contains:
- Essential EPA and DHA in a double chain phospholipid structure that makes it far more absorbable than the omega-3s in fish oil. Recent studies show that krill oil is absorbed 10-15 times as well as fish oil, which means you need far less. You may only need one 500 mg capsule per day to reap the benefits.
- Vitamin E, vitamin A, and vitamin D.
- Astaxanthin, which is a potent carotenoid antioxidant that is exponentially more effective in quenching dangerous free radicals than beta-carotene, alpha-tocopherol, lycopene and lutein, for example. Research has shown the anti-oxidant potency of krill oil is, in terms of ORAC values, 48 times more potent than fish oil.
Astaxanthin protects your cells, organs and body tissues from oxidative damage. The presence of astaxanthin in krill oil is also important because omega-3 fats have highly perishable double bonds that are particularly susceptible to oxidative damage from heat, pressure, or oxygen in the air. It doesn't take much to damage these fragile double bonds, and when they are damaged the oil goes rancid and becomes biologically useless.
So, while many fish oils are rancid by the time you open the bottle, krill oil is naturally protected from rancidity. You also need to have sufficient antioxidants to ensure that the omega-3 oils don't oxidize and become rancid inside your body, as oxidation leads to the formation of unhealthy free radicals, and with krill oil, this protection comes 'built-in' so to speak.
- Very minimal mercury contamination, as krill are so small they don't have the chance to accumulate toxins before being harvested.
For more information about the differences between krill oil and fish oil, and how to evaluate the quality of the products available on the market, please see my interview with Dr. Rudi Moerck.