A recent New York Times article poses the question: is any industrial fishing operation sustainable? What does that mean for those of us who enjoy eating fish and wanting to make environmental choices?
The fishery in question is a single Norwegian-operated factory ship that harvests Antarctic krill in the Southern Ocean. Krill might not be something you regularly shop for in your local grocery store, but it’s an ingredient in processed food and used as feed for farmed salmon and Omega-3 supplements for health-conscious humans. In their natural environment these shrimp-like crustaceans can be extremely abundant, up to 500 million tonnes of biomass in the Arctic and Antarctic oceans. Krill themselves munch on algae and phytoplankton and form the basis of an extremely productive food web in Antarctica, feeding whales, seals, and penguins as well as fish and other Antarctic marine species. Without krill, much of the higher marine life in the polar oceans would collapse.
The controversy for the Antarctic krill fishery rests on a recent certification by the Marine Stewardship Council. The certification allows producers to provide a blue “seal of approval” indicating to consumers that the fishery maintains a healthy population, doesn’t damage the environment, and is effectively managed. That appears to be the case for this Norwegian operation, which claims it only harvests 1% of the Antarctic krill population each year, but environmentalists are disgruntled with the Marine Stewardship Council in general for relying on consultants paid by the fisheries without taking into enough consideration the work of independent scientists and the growing realization that most of the world’s marine fisheries are not sustainable and indeed that most commercial stocks are on the verge of collapse.
What’s really upset environmentalists, and I agree, is the MSC certification of a longline fishery of Patagonian toothfish near South Georgia Island. These fish are so integral to the Southern Ocean and Ross Sea ecosystem and their populations are declining according to biologists who work in Antarctica, including Art DeVries and our Ice Stories correspondent David Ainley. Groups like the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch , who do independent research on fisheries and provide consumer recommendations say to avoid this fish, often called Chilean Sea Bass, because most of the fisheries aren’t certified and the one fishery that is certified can be hard to find. When in doubt eat something else, is my philosophy.