About 98 per cent of all krill harvested from the Antarctic is used as a colouring agent for farm-raised salmon; without it the salmon flesh would be gray — and what consumer wants gray salmon?

For that tiny niche not used to feed fellow denizens of the deep, krill offers a provocative nutritional profile replete with EPA, DHA as well as phospholipids that seem to boost absorption of the omega-3s and house health benefits in their own right. Astaxanthin, vitamin E and other proteins have helped drive krill growth as a supplement.

Despite its successes as a source of astaxanthin that provides that hallmark salmon orange for the aquaculture industry, the krill sector has its share of challenges.

Last week, Whole Foods announced it was banning krill supplements because of sustainability concerns. Krill suppliers work diligently to vouchsafe the catch with the international regulatory body, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. CCAMLR, as it is known, sets quotas and manages krill fisheries in the Antarctic. The Global Organisation for Omega-3 EPA and DHA begs to differ with Whole Foods.

If Whole Foods really is concerned about krill sustainability, shouldn't the target be their decadently presented Atlantic farm-raised—salmon one dinner of which probably sells for the same amount as the 2 per cent supplement bottles?

And yet, if the krill sector has patience, this Whole Foods flap could be a benefit and not a bane. That's because while the krill sector professes a 50 per cent growth rate over the past year, that growth has come in spite of lingering sustainability concerns. So, imagine 8 months from now when Whole Foods pronounces that krill is sustainably harvested after all. That would jump-start the sector, and likely more than make up for the temporary loss because of the sustainability issues Whole Foods brings to light. Sustainability would be taken off the table as an issue that dogs the krill sector.

But that would not entirely absolve the commercial krill world. Between lawsuits, trade show rows and competition that sometimes goes beyond cutthroat, what big-time manufacturer would want to touch it? Krill should take a tip from the greater fish oils sector, which a decade ago banded together all of its suppliers to mutually agree upon purity standards. The result of that effort has been phenomenal growth of the fish oil market, to the point where even when a red flag is raised about fish oil purity, the vast majority of the fish oil industry was unscathed. Heck, even ConsumerLab.com found fish oils to be universally clean — that could be a first in the history of ConsumerLab testing of any supplement.

Here's hoping krill is as sustainably harvested as its proponents profess. And that those in the industry pick up a tip or two from their cousins in the fish oil trade.

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