Aker gets highest rating in one fisheries report; challenges conclusions of another

By Hank Schultz contact

- Last updated on GMT

Aker BioMarine operates two krill harvesting vessels in the Southern Ocean.  Aker BioMarine photo.
Aker BioMarine operates two krill harvesting vessels in the Southern Ocean. Aker BioMarine photo.

Related tags: Antarctica, Southern ocean

Aker BioMarine has received an endorsement from a fisheries monitor even as the harvest of Antarctic krill was bitterly criticized by a report from an environmental group.

Aker received an “A” rating from The Sustainable Fisheries Partnership​, which recently released its 2016 overview of reduction fisheries.  For the second year in a row the krill fishery that Aker operates in the far south Atlantic Ocean was the only fishery to receive the highest rating.

Highest rating

Aker BioMarine's fishery was compared to 20 of the most significant fisheries used for the production of fishmeal and fish oil. Similar to last year's report, only 3.8% of the total catch volume of the reduction fisheries comes from stocks in very good condition and that corresponds to Aker's BioMarine's fishery alone. Another 58% of the catch volume came from fisheries receiving the next grade down, stocks that SFP judge to be “reasonably well managed.”

SFP used the following metrics to judge the fisheries:

  • Is the management precautionary?
  • Do fishery managers follow scientific advice?
  • Do fishers comply?
  • Is the stock biomass healthy?
  • Will the stock be healthy in the future?

Only the Antarctic krill fishery ticked all of these boxes, SFP said.

Aker BioMarine has devoted a significant amount of capital and effort in recent years to boosting its sustainability bona fides. The company actively contributes to the proceedings of CCAMLR, or the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, the multinational group that governs fishing in the Southern Ocean.  The company has donated vessel time for research into krill population size and the health of the animals, and it helped to found the Antarctic Wildlife Research Fund, headed by Dr Rudolfo Werner.  In addition, the company cooperates with World Wildlife Fund Australia on questions affecting the Antarctic ecosystem.

"There are no shortcuts when it comes to sustainable business practices at Aker BioMarine. We are no longer just fishing for krill in the Antarctic in a sustainable way - we have a meaning to our everyday work, which is to ensure healthy oceans and healthy lives,”​ said Cilia Holmes Indahl, Aker’s director of sustainability.

Critical report

Even as SFP was setting Aker up on a sustainability pedestal, another report by a nongovernmental group calling itself SumOfUs, released a report called “Vacuuming Antarctica for Krill.”​  The subtitle reads “The corporations plundering the earth’s last frontier.” ​ Krill, which are tiny pelagic shrimp like crustaceans that gather in huge swarms around the Antarctic continent, are the base of the food chain in the region.  It has been said without much exaggeration that everything in Antarctica either feeds on krill or feeds on something that feeds on krill. The report alleged that krill populations have plunged 80% since the 1970s and penguin populations have declined by as much as 50%.

SumOfUs bills itself as a “a group of consumers, workers and shareholders speaking up with one voice to counterbalance the growing power of corporations.” ​ So as can be determined, this is the group’s first report on the Antarctic ecosystem.

Holmes Indahl disputed the report’s major assertions. The data cited in the report is from studies that have been mentioned elsewhere, but she took issue with the conclusions the authors drew from that data.

Cooperation with NGOs

To start with, Holmes Indahl said far from ‘plundering’ the ecosystem, Aker BioMarine, which is by a large margin the world’s biggest harvester of krill, works with NGOs and regulatory bodies to try to make sure that the fishery is managed correctly right from the start.  Unlike almost all other fisheries around the globe, the large scale harvest of krill and the technical sophistication of the harvesting fleet has ramped up in lockstep with scientific assessments of the health of the biomass.  In other fisheries, such as cod in the northwestern Atlantic, by the time the scientists caught up, the fishery was already severely depleted and headed for a crash. As a result, krill harvest levels can be set with some confidence, she said.

“We have had a good dialogue with the community of environmental NGOs and researchers from the very beginning when we first started fishing for krill, and was made aware of the report when it was launched last year. Our impression from WWF and ASOC (Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition) that we work together with to promote research in the Antarctic, is that the current level of the fishery at 0.5% percent of the total biomass does not harm the ecosystem,” ​Holmes Indahl said.

As for the penguins, she said the data is more nuanced than the blanket 50% figure might indicate. Citing research by American authority Bill Fraser, Holmes Indahl said the fluctuation in the population of certain penguin species is most likely related to large-scale shifts in the ecosystem as a result of global climate change and has not been shown to be related to the harvest of krill.

“We conduct annual surveys on the density of krill to monitor the well-being of the biomass in the areas we fish. Researchers have also confirmed that there are no shortage of krill, but that climate change is most likely the reason for decline in two of the penguin species, Adeliés and Chinstrap. The Gentoo species on the other hand have increased under warmer temperatures,” ​she said.

According to an article in the Canadian publication Financial Post​, SumOfUs has in the past received large donations from the Tides Foundation, a liberal-leaning NGO based in San Francisco. SumOfUs cooperated in an effort to hinder the extraction of oil from Alberta’s tar sands formation.

Petitioning Walgreens

The SumOfUs report is cited by environment activist group Mighty in its petition to Walgreens to "stop selling blue whale’s food as nutritional supplements"​. 

In a letter to Stefano Pessina, CEO of the Walgreens Boots Alliance, Mighty states: "You have said that “environmental sustainability is part of Walgreens’ commitment to help our customers live well, stay well, and get well.” But Walgreens’ sales of Antarctic krill-based Omega-3 products don’t live up to these commitments. Krill is the basis of the Antarctic oceans’ food chain."

Mighty is a project of the Center for International Policy and its Chairman is Henry Waxman, the former Democratic Congressman from California who, among other efforts, unsuccessfully attempted to introduce an anti-supplement amendment to the Wall Street Reform Act of 2010.

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