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May, 2006


What Does Krill Have To Do With It?
By Marie Siegenthaler

It would appear that the Pacific coast states have opted to take drastic measures to match their desperate circumstances. Salmon fishing season has been restricted or completely closed in separate locations along the coast.
Our local grassroots organizations have been rallying "save the salmon" for years. All species of salmon on our coast are either threatened or endangered, with the exception of Alaskan salmon. It is a secret to no one that salmon populations have been in decline for several years. We have salmon crossing signs all along Paper Mill Creek and Public Service Billboards urging that the creeks remain undisturbed during spawning season. Over fishing, pollution, and damage to our local creeks have encumbered the survival rate of salmon both in the sea and in the rivers. In a way we might have been anticipating this.

But should we be expecting Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (SPAWN) to start rallying "save the krill?"

In recent months it has transpired that the krill population has dropped. The cold Pacific waters once rich with schools of the shrimp-like organism are thinly distributed with an alarmingly low population. What does this mean to our oceanic ecosystems and economy?

To the oceans, krill is an indispensable food source for a myriad of marine life, including blue whales, rock fish, and fairy penguins. Without krill the entire ocean literally collapses in upon itself. To the economy, krill are a protein-rich shellfish used primarily for fish food, but also for krill oil and as food.

But now krill are facing circumstances that pose a threat to their survival off the west coast. Their preferred cold water is heating up. A shift of winds has brought warm water to our usually cold coast. Without cold water from Alaska subducting under our local sea, nutrients from the ocean floor fail to rise to feed krill's primary food source: phytoplankton. Without food, krill populations suffer. Without krill, the oceanic ecosystems are stressed and productivity decreases. Add in the already occurring stress that the krill have and an oceanic Armageddon seems frighteningly more possible.

As of 2003 it is illegal for any California, Oregon, or Washington fisher to trawl krill on the coast, or three miles out to sea. Now in 2006 we're considering banning krill fishing in federal waters, or waters within 200 miles of land. There is almost no opposition to this ban even by commercial fishers. But not a great amount of krill fishing occurs in this area; most krill fishing is at fisheries stationed in the Antarctic and off the coasts of Japan and British Columbia.

But what they supply doesn't meet our demand. Especially with salmon season being closed, we will now rely more than before on krill for our farmed salmon. Krill feed is especially favored by salmon and other carnivorous fish farmers to give their fish's meat a pink hue without adding dye. We need to drop demand for krill, and quickly.

The first step to a more conscious diet is to stop or reduce purchase of carnivorous farmed fish such as salmon and tuna. Alternatives for carnivorous fish include herbivorous or omnivorous fish such as catfish and tilapia, whose aquiculture are among the most sustainable. Use non-krill-based bait for fishing and use alternatives to krill oil for health such as flax seed oil. Shop carefully and see that your animal feeds aren't made from krill.

The sooner we reduce the need for krill, the easier it is for our stressed oceans to recover.

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