Krill is rapidly gaining popularity. The tiny shrimp-like organism from Antarctica is used as fish food in aquaculture and increasingly in dietary supplements and healing oils. Although krill capture is regulated, care is required to avoid endangering the population itself and the species that depend on it, warns a group of krill experts led by Prof. Dr. Bettina Meyer from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Center for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) in the journal Land & Environment Communications.
The Antarctic Krill, Euphausia superba, is a tall, reddish-colored shrimp, five centimeters long, which at first glance may not look like an impressive inhabitant of the Southern Ocean. But the krill meet their small individual size with the large number of their entire population. There are about 300-500 billion Mt krill in the Southern Ocean made up of about hundreds of trillions of individuals. This massive biomass makes krill a key component of the local ecosystem. It is the main source of food for many predators from fish, penguins and seabirds to seals and whales.
People have also developed an interest in krill over the last few decades. Norway, along with Korea, China, Chile, Ukraine and Japan, is being pulled to the South Ocean. But the fishing industry has become more efficient in catching krill using not only traditional fishing nets, but new continuous pumping systems. Demand for krill is likely to increase, driven by at least two industries. First the increasing production of carnivorous fish through aquaculture, such as salmon, and the subsequent increase in demand for fish meals and seafood by-products. Second, the growing demand for high value pharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals from krill oil and krill meals, such as wound oil and krill oil capsules for human use and pet food.
The krill fishery is headed by the Antarctic Marine Resources Conservation Commission (CCAMLR), which was established in 1982. This body uses model surveys and calculations to determine how much krill can be caught and where it can be caught. The Atlantic sector of the Southern Ocean has the highest concentration of both krill reserves and fishing fleets. This region alone has a maximum allowable catch of 620,000 tons per year distributed in different fishing areas.
This is just one part of the krill estimated to live in the ocean around Antarctica. The CCAMLR had long assumed that the catch limits set would not cause serious harm, but krill experts like Bettina Meyer now see things differently. “The problem is that catch regulations, so far, have aimed primarily at protecting krill eaters,” the researcher explains. “Very little attention has been paid to the potential risks to the krill reserves themselves.
This is due to the fact that relatively little is still known about some aspects of the biology of these small crustaceans. Funded by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL), Bettina Meyer, her colleague Dr. Ryan Driscoll and her research team in a new publication, krill experts from around the world summarize why there are several reasons to worried about the future of this major species.
In short, the abundance of krill in some regions fluctuates greatly from year to year. However, the causes of these fluctuations are not yet clear and current krill management does not adjust capture accordingly. Moreover, it is likely that only a small fraction of the population, confined to a relatively small area, will provide offspring for the entire Atlantic portion of the Southern Ocean. Finally, little is known about where the younger generation migrates in their first year. This means that it is possible for the most important parts of the population, future parents and their offspring, to become overweight.
In 2019 the CCAMLR decided to develop a new krill management system to address these issues. The committee is advised by the Krill Action Group under the umbrella of the Antarctic Research Committee (SCAR), which was founded in 2018. It currently consists of 46 international members, half of whom are established and half of the early career scientist . “Our goal is to provide CCAMLR with the latest knowledge on the size, distribution and dynamics of krill stocks.” explains Bettina Meyer, who heads this group of experts.
The future of krill management will require the answer to the extended question in key areas of krill biology. For example, understanding how krill populations in different regions are related and how adults and juveniles differ in their location and movement. Also unknown are the environmental conditions responsible for determining the years of good or bad krill. The Atlantic sector of the Southern Ocean is warming rapidly and thus understanding how the krill will adapt to climate change is essential. As for the latter, “previous CCAMLR models do not take this plasticity into account,” explains Bettina Meyer, “but we need to know more about this if we are to be able to predict future changes in the ecosystem.”
Bettina Meyer and her colleagues have some concrete ideas on how missing data can be collected. Since space and availability for scientific expeditions on research vessels is limited, scientists can count on the support of fishing fleets. Together, these fishing vessels have the potential to collect a significant amount of krill data that can help close critical knowledge gaps.
Moreover, new technology can help scientists advance their understanding of krill reserves and their distribution. For example, autonomous submarines, which look like mini-planes with a wingspan of about 1.50 meters, can be equipped with cameras, sensors and echoes to search the krill. They can wander the ocean from the surface up to 1000 meters for several months, collecting data on the density and distribution of the krill.
Another promising technology is advanced anchors, equipped with a range of sensors to measure water properties and krill density. These stationary devices can provide important information almost year-round in critical areas for krill fish management. Even krill predators, whales, seals or penguins, can be recruited to assist with the use of attached camera systems and GPS-equipped probes.
“All of this can provide us with valuable new information for better krill management,” says Bettina Meyer, who is convinced of this approach. But in order to cover large areas of the Southern Ocean it is important to coordinate these research efforts internationally: “As a single warrior, no one can answer the complex questions of krill research.”
The Antarctic coast is sheltered by climate change
Bettina Meyer et al, Successful Antarctic krill ecosystem-based management should address uncertainties in krill recruitment, behavior and ecological adaptation, Land & Environment Communications (2020) DOI: 10.1038 / s43247-020-00026-1
citation: The future of krill: Experts recommend new management strategies (2020, October 16) taken on October 16, 2020 from https://phys.org/news/2020-10-future-krill-experts-strategies.html
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