What is krill?

Krill are small, shrimp-like crustaceans that constitute one of the most important sources of marine nutrition. Aker BioMarine harvests pelagic krill that grow to some 6 cm in length and weigh about 2 grams. The biomass of krill in the oceans of the world — estimated at 400-500 million metric tons — is maintained through high reproduction rates. Harvests permitted under regulations catch about one percent of total krill biomass annually. Oil derived from krill is rich in Omega-3 phospholipids and the antioxidant astaxanthin — both recognized for their health-promoting benefits.

General information on krill

The word "krill" comes from Norwegian, meaning "young fish" but it is now used as the common term for the euphausiids, a family of pelagic marine crustaceans found throughout the oceans of the world. There are 85 species of krill ranging in size from the smallest which are some millimeters long to the largest deep sea species which can reach 15 cm in length.
Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) is one of the bigger species, growing to a maximum size of 6.5 cm and weighing up to 2 gram. Antarctic krill grow to their maximum size over a period of approximately 3-5 years. Antarctic krill occurs throughout most of the waters south of the Antarctic Convergence but is most abundant closer to the Antarctic continent and around some of the Antarctic and sub Antarctic islands. The fishery concentrates on the larger adults in the 40-65mm size range, and has been commercially harvested all around the Antarctic although the current fishery concentrates in the South Atlantic with summer fisheries along the Antarctic Peninsula and winter fisheries around South Georgia Island.

Ever since the great abundance of krill became apparent there has been speculation that it might form a suitable target for a fishery. During the 1960s serious interest began to be expressed in a krill fishery. Estimates put the biomass of this "surplus krill" population at around 150 million mt per year. The assumption that this population was going to waste was obviously simplistic but the exercise did serve to indicate that there was an immense potential for a krill fishery in the Southern Ocean. With the depletion of many traditional fisheries in the Antarctic, and the declaration of 200 mile EEZ’s in the late 1970s by many countries, krill appeared to offer potential for a large fishery in international waters.

The harvest of krill gradually increased during the late 1970s as the fishery moved from its experimental phase reaching a peak in 1982 when 528,201 mt were harvested, 93% of which was taken by the Soviet Union. The current annual harvest is approximately 100,000 mt.

Main components of krill – Protein and lipids

Measuring only an average of 4 to 5 cm in length and weighing a mere 2-gram, krill is surprisingly high in protein. Raw krill consists of about 14% crude protein. Analyses of the amino acid profile of krill protein demonstrate that all essential amino acids are present and are nutritionally well balanced. The quality parameters of minerals such as iron, phosphorus, magnesium and calcium are very good. Krill also contain 29 different free amino acids several known to be bioactive, to have osmoregulatory functions, act as strong attractants and improve palatability in feed and foods. The content of fluorine is constantly analyzed and monitored and due to Aker Eco-Harvesting and processing technology the level is only 1/3 of the upper limit set by EU directives for feed ingredients. The high nutritional value of krill is one of the reasons that it is being called the food of the future.

The Eco-Harvesting technology prevents the krill from enzymatic degradation and contamination from birds. No harmful bacteria such as salmonella have been detected. Volatile nitrogen is at a very low level and biogenic amines, compounds like cadaverin and histamine typically found in fish meal as a result of bacterial degradation are below levels of detection in our krill meal.

Krill contains in average 9% lipids dependent on season. Whole krill consists of 40% phospholipids, rich in omega 3 fatty acids like EPA and DHA. The krill oil is a good source for the natural antioxidant astaxanthin and the krill oil contains 1.2 -1.4 g/kg oil. This is considered to be a very high level found in nature.

During the exploratory fishery in 2004 and 2005, Aker systematically investigated the content of persistent organic pollutants (POP) such as dioxin, PCB- like dioxins, aldrin, dieldrin, toxaphene, DDT’s, flame retardants (PBDE’s) and heavy metals in krill meal and krill oil products. Aker can present accredited certificates of analyses that these compounds only occur at low levels in Antarctic krill. No components were found at levels exceeding limits for neither feed nor food products according to EU directives.

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