Krill, those tiny members of the ocean’s planktonic community, have an importance disproportionate to their size. They are a vital food for whales, penguins and increasingly, humans. Demand for krill-based animal feed and 0mega-3 fatty acids is leading to a “gold rush” in the Southern Ocean off Antarctica.
Harvesting krill is the outcome of a decades-long trend of “fishing down the food web“. After humans decimated large oceanic organisms like tuna and swordfish, global fisheries have turned to smaller and less desirable species. Lobster, for instance, was once fed to prisoners, while cod was once so plentiful it was used as fertilizer. Now, fisheries are increasingly snapping up ‘bait fish’ like anchovies, mackerel and menhaden. The fact that commercial fishermen are now turning to krill, even jellyfish, indicates we may be scooping up the last and least tasty fish in the sea.