Why NOAA is banning krill harvest off the West Coast
On Monday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) prohibited krill harvesting off the US West Coast. The ban goes into effect Aug. 12.Skip to next paragraph
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Krill are tiny shrimplike creatures. They eat algae and, occasionally, other little critters. Ultimately, we all rely on photosynthetic organisms for our daily bread – they're the only organisms able to use the sun's energy to directly create carbohydrates.
In the marine realm, it's krill that play the important role of converting plant matter into flesh. Anything that's not a vegetarian – and that includes whales, seals, and many, many fish – relies on krill, or similar shrimplike creatures (like copepods), to convert plant matter into animal protein and fat.
Salmon eat them; that's how they get their characteristic orangish color. So does the blue whale. That tells you something about the little shrimp's abundance. There are enough to support the largest animal ever to have existed.
Indeed, judged by sheer biomass – the combined weight of all living individuals – Antarctic krill are the single most successful animal on the planet. And they support large, both literally and figuratively, quantities of life. If you were to put all the world's marine mammals on a scale, you'd find half that mass came from the krill-rich waters surrounding Antarctica. That includes one-fifth of the world's whales. All that is because of krill.
Greenpeace says of krill:
It is currently the largest fishery in the Southern Ocean (Everson 2000). The market for krill is expected to grow in line with increasing demand globally for aquaculture feed (Nicol & Foster 2003). Previous difficulties related to rapid spoiling of the catch and high levels of fluoride leaching from the shells into the meat have largely been overcome by improved and more rapid on-board processing techniques. Some facilities exist aboard vessels to manufacture bio-diesel from krill. The decline in sea ice in the south-western Atlantic has enabled the krill fishery to operate year round (Smetacek & Nicol 2005). This and the improved processing methods have effectively removed the last constraints that were limiting growth of this fishery. In addition, the development of new products is taking place, including the production of krill oil rich in omega-3 fatty acids as a human dietary supplement.