For 10 months a year, Aker BioMarine's ice-encrusted fishing vessels set up shop in Area 48 in the frigid Southern Ocean to harvest one of the functional ingredients industry's star phospholipids: krill. The estimated 60 million tons of krill, each measuring no more than 6 cm in length, thrive in these waters, which are a decidedly more foreign habitat for the 100+ member professional fishing crew.
Established by Aker in 2006, Norway-based Aker BioMarine is at its core a fishery, said Eric Anderson, vice president of sales and marketing, North America. The vertically integrated operation produces high-value marine ingredients for the health and nutrition markets, as well as for aquaculture and pig feed. Astaxanthin content in krill is what helps give farm-raised salmon and pigs their color. ("Putting it into a topical cosmetic would be interesting, if you don't mind a littleblush," joked Anderson.)
Last year, the company became the first – and so far only – krill harvester to achieve certification from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), the preeminent certifying body in the industry. The certification is so rigorous it took a year-and-a-half to obtain.
What does MSC certification assess?
- The fishery must operate at a sustainable level.
- Fishing operations should minimize environmental impact.
- The fishery must meet all local, national and international laws and must have a management system in place to respond to changes.
- Plus, 31 more detailed criteria that expand upon these principles. Certification is re-evaluated every five years.
The promise of krill
Krill oil is "an overnight success that takes 10 years for people to learn about it," said Anderson, noting that demand for krill is ramping up to the ingredient's promise.
"Eight years ago when krill was introduced, the emphasis was on an alternative to fish oil," said Anderson. "Really what hasn't been understood is the role of phospholipids." Aker BioMarine has identified 69 distinct phospholipids in krill.
"That's very important [to know] from a functionality standpoint," said Anderson. "What's in the product is responsible for its efficacy, above and beyond EPA and DHA." The company's Superba brand krill oil, extracted from the species Euphausia superba, has been shown to have cardiovascular, brain and joint health benefits.
Last November, a company-partnered study published in Lipids found that krill oil offers the health benefits of fish oil but at a much lower dose. The company hypothesized that phospholipids are responsible, whereas most fish oils contain omega-3s in the form of triglycerides or ethyl esters.
In 2010, the company published five studies, four of them on humans, on the efficacy and benefits of krill's phospholipids, and is on track to publish the same amount in 2011. "We're the only company that we're aware of that is actively sponsoring nutritional research for krill supplements today," said Anderson. The company has also joined GOED and, along with itscompetitors, are creating a monograph of krill oil and methods to analyze it to combat adulterated krill oil supplements.
On the same boat
In order to fish in Antarctica, Aker BioMarine holds a license from the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), a 25-nation consortium dedicated to conserving marine life in the Southern Ocean. The company's close association with CCAMLR has led to hosting independent researchers on the ship, at no charge, to conduct research on krill or other species.
"We have a paid independent observer on board who is documenting our harvest and reporting back to CCAMLR directly, not only what we're bringing on board the ship but also other information on the environment," Anderson said. At the beginning of the fishing season in January, the company also donated the use of all their ships solely for CCAMLR-based research.
"Inviting outsiders onto your vessel to look into every nook and cranny of what you're doing is a little scary for some. But we said, you know what? Let's put it out there," he said. "Let's not hide anything. Let's do this the right way from the harvesting to the research to delivering the product to the consumer."