Friday, 26 June 2009

€4.4 billion spent on emptying our oceans of life

The EU has been subsidising the denudation of our oceans to the tune of €4.4 billion over a 12 year period. Spain, possibly the most repacious fishing country on earth, got 48% of the subsidies dispensed.

A huge Spanish trawler, well known for its over-exploitation of critically endangered Mediterranean bluefin tuna, enjoyed EU subsidies of more than €4m. Three other fishing vessels blacklisted by Greenpeace were given handouts running into millions.

In the current EU budget period of 2007-13, Brussels is handing out a similar level of subsidies of €4.3bn.

This money is spent on a European fishing fleet that currently stands at nearly 100,000 boats, and is by any standards vastly over-capacity. To make matters worse these vessels are targeting fish stocks that are already overfished.

It would be hard to imagine a similar situation on land, where wild animals are hunted to near extinction with the aid of European taxpayers money. It is a legalised, government funded destruction on an unimaginable scale, pure and simple.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

RSPB risks all on climate-change policy

The RSPB have gone on record as saying they will not oppose windfarms, despite the fact that their primary concern should be the welfare of birds, and windfarms and birds clearly don't mix.

They also believe, quite wrongly in my opinion, that it is climate change not overfishing that is starving our seabirds. (See 'Is the RSPB failing seabirds?' and 'Where have all the sandeels gone?' below).

I assume that the RSPB believe climate change to be such a threat to birdlife that overfishing and windfarms are the lesser of two evils?

This is an extremely high-risk strategy to take and if they are wrong, and the policies they pursue fail, the countryside will be littered with wind turbines and overfishing will have killed all our seabirds.

My problem does not stem from whether or not climate change exists but that in the RSPB's efforts to combat it much more pressing issues will be ignored.

The UK government is in a similar dilemma, they compel me to buy a certain type of lightbulb but they subsidise the buying of new cars and cannot protect the rainforests or implement marine reserves.

Surely, prior to tackling the minutiae of climate change, governments and NGO's should demonstrate an ability to adequately tackle grossly overlooked environmental concerns like overfishing before they can convince us that they will be able to make any impression on a warming planet?

Sportfishing is killing the biggest, most precious fish

1300lb mako shark caught recently in the USA

Updated 19th Sept 2014

As with land animals, there is now no excuse for killing threatened fish for sport and trophies. Despite this a significant minority of people in the sportfishing community are still killing these fish as proof of their endeavours in a similar vein to the great white hunters of the 1950s.

Due to intensive industrial overfishing only ten-percent of all large fish species including sharks, tuna, swordfish, marlin and sailfish are left in the sea. The era of iconic fish that inspired legends and novels is over and every single animal is now precious.

Large predatory fish are usually slow maturing and a 500kg fish may be upwards of 30 years-old with the largest and most sought after fish almost invariably female and sometimes pregnant.

Whilst it is the commercial fishermen who still endanger these fish the most, it is the sportfisher - who kills their prey instead of catching and releasing, then gets their photo in the popular press - who is the most visible aspect of an almost unimaginable disregard for marine life.

The irony is that the sportfisher, unlike the hunter on land, can have his cake and eat it. By catching, recording and releasing the fish they can provide a sustainable income for the region and invaluable information for conservation science.

The attitude of the media must change as well. Just as they would not dream of publishing a picture of a big-game hunter standing next to a shot tiger, it must now be unacceptable to show people standing next to a shark or marlin strung up by its tail.

At the beginning of the 20th Century intensive overhunting caused numerous wild land animals to become endangered. At about the time Ernest Hemmingway wrote 'The Old Man and the Sea' in 1951 a growing wildlife protection movement for land animals was forming. By the 1960s and 70s the movement was in full swing.

No such widespread, large-scale conservation movement exists for fish. If there is any hope of conserving these magnificent animals public attitudes to their slaughter will have to play catch-up with land conservation and change dramatically.

The extinction of sharks

We got over the demise of the dodo, the passenger pigeon and even the Chinese river dolphin, but will we ever get over the upcoming possible extinction of sharks?

Conservative estimates reckon that between 30 to 70 million sharks are killed annually in commercial and recreational fisheries, and some conservation organisations put that figure closer to 100 million.

Sharks are killed for a whole manner of reasons, their meat is used for food, fins for soup, cartilage in health supplements, livers for oil, skin for leather and teeth for curios, some are even killed for the sheer pleasure of it.

And demand is increasing. As whitefish stocks have collapsed previously unprofitable shark fisheries have become commercially viable and shark meat more acceptable.

Even in the most optimistic of scenarios this slaughter cannot be sustained. Sharks do not produce huge numbers of eggs like other fish, their young are either born live or in egg cases and the average brood is only about 12 pups.

Sharks first appeared on earth some 400 million years ago, before land vertebrates and before many plants had colonised continents. Modern sharks, such as the mako and the porbeagle, are regarded as living unchanged for 100 million years. The oldest great white shark teeth date from about 65 million years ago, around the time of the extinction of the dinosaurs.

The fact that present-day sharks have not changed substantially for the last 100 million years suggests that they may have attained a level of evolutionary perfection that is unmatched by any other animal. And yet during the last 20 years alone humans have done more harm to sharks than had been done in the previous 100 million years, with some species of shark declining by 90%. It would be sadly ironic that having survived the extinction of the dinosaurs sharks may well disappear from this planet for the sake of shark-fin soup.

Humans have been responsible for the extinction of a single species of animal in the past but never have a whole class been endangered as we see with sharks. In barely the time it has taken to set up and establish a cohesive shark conservation strategy we are in danger of losing one of the most iconic and evocative animals this planet has ever known.

Shark fishing is mostly unregulated and conservation measures have been too slow in coming, but we can act now individually. If you see a Chinese restaurant selling shark fin soup, a health food shop selling shark supplements, a shop selling shark meat, or a media piece showing a 'sports' fisherman with his dead shark trophy, take five minutes of your time to tell them that this is totally unacceptable.

An ocean would not be an ocean without sharks, and as an apex predator they are crucial to the marine ecosystem. Yet the current situation for sharks couldn't really be much worse I'm afraid. We are on the brink of watching the extinction of a whole class of animal that the world cannot afford to lose this time.

Overfishing & piracy

Overfishing in African waters is forcing fishermen to turn to piracy to make a living. The pirates blame foreign trawlers for destroying their livelihoods, forcing them into hijacking ships and demanding ransoms. The most dramatic seizure yet, a Saudi supertanker with its expensive cargo of oil, has underlined a surge in piracy in the Gulf of Aden, one of the world's busiest shipping routes.

The problem has spread south to the Indian Ocean coastal waters off Somalia with 62 ships attacked this year, and there is a strong possibility that the practice will catch on in other coastal regions as fishermen look for alternative ways of making money.

The International Maritime Board's piracy monitors say there are at least 10 vessels and 221 crew members held hostage in ports such as Eyl, east Somalia. Pirates, many operating out of former fishing ports such as Eyl and Bosaso, are deploying increasingly sophisticated methods, including high speed launches, GPS trackers, and satellite communications, to target shipping.

Is the RSPB failing seabirds?

In recent reports the RSPB claim that climate change is altering the availability of sandeels and causing seabirds such as kittiwakes, Arctic terns and Arctic skuas to fail to breed successfully.

The evidence seems to be much stronger for overfishing to be the cause of these failures, and the RSPB, by avoiding the elephant in the room, may be damaging the long-term recovery plan for seabirds.

In most RSPB reports there is often no mention that overfishing is also a likely cause. It makes you wonder whether there are political motives for this blinkered stance? An analogy would be like blaming climate change instead of industrialised intensive farming since the 1950's for the decline in British birds.

The sandeel fishery has now become by far the biggest single-species fishery in the North Sea, with landings accounting for one-third of all fish landed. The vast majority of this catch is landed and processed in Denmark. Such fundamental changes in the fabric of the marine ecosystem are what ecologists refer to as 'fishing down the food web'.

Since 1977, total yearly North Sea sandeel catches have fluctuated around 600,000-800,000 tonnes, but since 2003 catches have crashed dramatically to between 200,000-300,000 tonnes. The collapse of the fishery was particularly severe in the Norwegian economical zone with a 95% reduction in landings in 2005.

Many scientists and ecologists believe that the recent disastrous breeding seasons for many of Europe's seabird colonies can be directly linked to the industrial fishing of sandeels in the North Sea.

As early as 1997, two respected Danish fisheries scientists - Henrik Gislason and Eskild Kirkegaard - were highly critical of the North Sea sandeel fishery, and they concluded that "it cannot be ruled out that fishing could adversely effect the breeding success of the birds. It would therefore be precautionary to close areas to fishing until more is known about sandeel stock structure and interactions between sandeels and seabirds".

And a report published by the International Council for Exploration of the Seas (ICES) says that "the amount of industrial fish species taken by fishermen in the North Sea appears to leave little for seabirds and marine mammals".

The UK has some of the most significant seabird populations in the world, and discovering the exact cause of their decline is essential if we want to implement an effective recovery plan. If the RSPB have got the diagnosis wrong, then we will probably end up with a dead patient.

Treating marine life like trash

The objective of commercial fishermen is to catch fish that can be sold. The higher the price that these fish fetch at market, the more money the fishermen will make. The fishermen has limited time and space in which to maximise their income, so in order to do so their main objective must be to be as selective as possible. However most fisheries are at least partially non-selective and catch fish and other animals that are not targeted. This non-targeted catch is known as bycatch. This bycatch is usually discarded (thrown over the side of the boat either dead or dying).

In the North Sea nearly one million tonnes of marine life is discarded in this way every year, and unbelievably, seventy percent is comprised of commercially important fish species. This equates to nearly one-third of the total fish landed by fishermen, and one-tenth of the estimated total biomass of fish in the North Sea. These fish are discarded because they are either undersized, over quota or not of sufficiently high value to the fisherman.

In EU Community waters the practice of discarding fish is not illegal and it speaks volumes on EU fisheries policy that when in a time of worldwide food and fuel shortages and rapidly declining fish stocks the practice of discarding is not only tolerated, but is in many cases a legally binding requirement.

There is no way of knowing what damage discarding has on the marine ecosystem as amazingly very little scientific research has been carried out to determine its detrimental affects on the marine ecosystem, but it is worth mentioning that no other industry gets close to the practice of discarding in terms of sheer waste and destructiveness.

Norway obviously feels strongly enough about the matter to have banned the discarding of commercial fish in its waters as early as 1990, requiring all boats to land the fish for processing into fishmeal. Measures have also been introduced whereby fisheries can be closed very quickly if an area is found to contain a large number of juvenile fish.

So what are the solutions? Personally I would completely ban the discarding of bycatch but in the meantine perhaps an agreement could be put in place where fishermen are given an amnesty so boats can land their bycatch and a proper scientific audit can be carried out?

Almost half of all discards are caused by the various types of trawling, and it may be time to call and end to this particularly destructive method of fishing. If the Marine Stewardship Council's fishery certification program and seafood eco-label gain widespread acceptance within the EU member countries this may in itself help to end the indiscriminate methods employed by trawling.

Bycatch and discards are an aberration. We are in the 21st century and yet the wholesale slaughter of our marine life still continues in our oceans, with no protected areas from which marine life can recover from this onslaught, and where the fishermen, once their catch is dead, can pick and choose which animals are worth keeping and which can dumped back into the ocean. This cannot be right.

Where have all the sandeels gone?

Most people accept that the North Sea has been subjected to the most appalling overfishing. Whitefish stocks have collapsed and the mackerel and herring fisheries are all but commercially extinct.

Under normal circumstances the removal of huge numbers of predatory fish would allow room for species such as sandeel to increase dramatically, but this is not the case.

Why is this? The sandeel fishery has now become by far the biggest single-species fishery in the North Sea, with landings accounting for one-third of all fish landed. The vast majority of this catch is landed and processed in Denmark. Such fundamental changes in the fabric of the marine ecosystem are what ecologists refer to as 'fishing down the food web'.

Since 1977, total yearly North Sea sandeel catches have fluctuated around 600,000-800,000 tonnes, but since 2003 catches have crashed dramatically to between 200,000-300,000 tonnes. The collapse of the fishery was particularly severe in the Norwegian economical zone with a 95% reduction in landings in 2005.

You will not have eaten a sandeel knowingly (unwittingly perhaps as a fish-oil supplement), so what exactly are sandeels used for? The sandeel is an exceptionally oily fish and is harvested for the rapidly expanding fish-oil and fish-meal industries and used in everything from food for farmed salmon to animal feed and health supplements. At one stage sandeels were even used to fuel Danish power stations. And demand is set to increase.

Recent forecasts by the FAO (UN Food & Agriculture Organisation) indicate that aquaculture and its insatiable appetite for fish-oil, will dominate world fish supplies by 2030, fuelling pressure for a high level of industrial sandeel fishing in the North Sea. It takes, for example, 4kg of wild caught sandeel to produce 1kg of farmed salmon.

This does not bode well for the marine species in the North Sea that depend on sandeels for food. Many scientists and ecologists believe that the recent disastrous breeding seasons for many of Europe's seabird colonies can be directly linked to the industrial fishing of sandeels in the North Sea.

As early as 1997, two respected Danish fisheries scientists - Henrik Gislason and Eskild Kirkegaard - were highly critical of the North Sea sandeel fishery, and they concluded that "it cannot be ruled out that (sandeel) fishing could adversely effect the breeding success of the birds. It would therefore be precautionary to close areas to fishing until more is known about sandeel stock structure and interactions between sandeels and seabirds". And a report published by the International Council for Exploration of the Seas (ICES) suggests that "the amount of industrial fish species taken by fishermen in the North Sea appears to leave little for seabirds and marine mammals".

It would not be unreasonable then to suggest that the overfishing of sandeel stocks may represent the single greatest threat to seabirds in the North Sea, especially in the breeding season when seabirds forage close to their colonies.

And it is not only the seabirds that are suffering. Studies into the diet of common dolphins, grey seals and harbour porpoises in Scottish waters have shown that they feed mainly on sandeels in the spring and early summer. The affects on these species if they cannot find sandeels to eat at this time of year can be disastrous. For example, spring is a critical time for dolphins and porpoises in terms of energy requirements. Some of the lowest sea temperatures occur in the North Sea in March, putting a great strain on dolphins and porpoises as they require the thickest blubber layer to limit heat loss at this time. In addition young animals are weaned and become independent foragers in spring, placing them at the mercy of changes in sandeel availability.

Ironically the long-term overfishing of sandeels in the North Sea may also inhibit a return to the former healthy status of predatory fish stocks such as cod and haddock, as these stocks can only recover if there are sufficient prey fish for them to feed upon. This is what ecologists refer to as a 'negative feedback loop', a vicious circle of exploitation that renders an ecosystem incapable of a recovery to anywhere near its former productivity.

It may not yet be too late however, but our attitudes and tolerance to an industry that has got perilously close to destroying the very fabric of the North Sea must change dramatically. No longer can we view the commercial fishing industry with the romantic notion of hard working fishermen risking everything to put fish on our plates. It must now be seen for what it is, a ruthless, efficient, hi-tech industry of destruction that is prepared to wipe out whole species for profit with almost no long-term consideration for the health of the marine environment.

Ocean crisis

One of the long-established ecological principles is that large animals are less abundant than smaller ones. There are fewer elephants than antelope which are less numerous than rabbits. Because larger animals need more resources an ecosystem can support fewer of them.

The one glaring exception to this principle is us, homo sapiens. There are 6.8 billion humans on earth and no other large animal gets close to us as a species. For example, our nearest relatives the great apes (gorillas, orang's and chimp's) number fewer than 350,000. Part of our success as a species can be attributed to our ability to domesticate animals and plants.

Farming as we now call it has enabled us to feed a population that would be impossible to sustain from wild resources alone. Crops and livestock, genetically modified over millennia for food, have led to a situation where the global population of humans can now double every 40 years or so. The domestication of land animals may have also inadvertently saved the remaining wild populations from being hunted to extinction.

However, the exploitation of wild marine animals continues unabated, mostly without the safety-valve of large scale farming to reduce pressure on the populations. Perhaps because of the vast and hostile environment in which they inhabit marine animals have, until recently, shown remarkable resilience to over 100 years of industrial scale exploitation.

But there are now numerous unmistakeable indicators that this is no longer the case. Ninety percent of all commercial fish species are in dire trouble. Fished well beyond sustainable limits for decades some experts predict that 'wild seafood' will cease to exist by 2050. Fish and jellyfish essentially compete for similar nutrient resources and with the fish gone the jellyfish thrive. Jellyfish populations have exploded all across the world, overtaking fish in terms of total biomass in many areas.

There have been an increasing number of reports where whales, porpoises, seals and seabirds have been found starving to death through lack of enough fish to eat and Namibia are culling 86,000 Cape fur seals this year to protect their overexploited and dwindling fish stocks.

In the Mediterranean sharks have been declared 'functionally extinct' and the bluefin tuna is expected to join them any day now. Sharks across the globe are being cruelly slaughtered in their millions to satisfy the fin soup market, hardly an essential ingredient to human survival.

Longlining is decimating the billfish and pelagic bird populations. The iconic marlin, sailfish and swordfish are now in grave danger of disappearing off the face of the earth forever and the accidental bycatch of pelagic seabirds and turtles, such as the albatross and hawksbill, is reducing populations so quickly that there is virtually no hope of their breeding quickly enough to maintain healthy populations.

Not satisfied with taking all the fish pelagic fishing boats are now converting to krill fishing to satisfy the increasing demand for fish-oil and fish-meal. Venturing deep into Antarctic waters to harvest what has recently been described as 'pink gold'. Krill are a 'keystone' species whose exploitation we may later refer to as 'the straw that broke the camel's back'.

The evidence of destruction is there for all but the blindest to see and yet the exploitation goes on unabated and largely unregulated. The world's ocean is in crisis, and if these tell-tale signs are continually ignored the damage may soon become irreparable.

Overfishing is a threat to human existence

Virtually every threat to life in the sea is attributable to our use of the 'wait and see principle', which allows overexploitation, ecosystem destruction or pollution so long as someone gains economically and the environmental consequences are uncertain.

In 1988 the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) was formed to gain a better understanding of global climate change and provide scientific evidence that climate change was causing significant damage to our environment. In 2001 it published its Third Assessment Report (TAR). This report was a comprehensive assessment of the scientific, technical, and socio-economic dimensions of climate change and the panel concluded that it was at least ninety percent certain that human emissions of greenhouse gases rather than natural variations are warming the planet's surface. This proclamation galvanised the world into confronting the threat of climate change, if not actually combating it effectively as yet.

The threats to our marine environment (which accounts for seventy percent of the Earth's surface) have had no such large scale, unified effort, and where the scientific data does exist it is often grossly inaccurate or misleading. Take overfishing for example. The FAO (UN Food & Agriculture Organisation) maintains the only global database of fisheries statistics collected between 1950 and 2004. Numbers used are voluntarily reported by individual countries and are taken from sales of fish, rather than scientific surveys. The system overlooks fish caught and consumed by those who catch them because this leaves no economic trail. Three and fourfold underestimates are not uncommon. This can have profound implications for overfishing as some nations sell rights to foreign fishing boats on the basis of these flawed statistics.

Other scientific fisheries data can be equally misleading. In a study by Dalhousie University, Canada, it was discovered that the true scale of the devastation caused by overfishing has remained hidden because in most of the world's oceans industrial fishing began long before fisheries biologists started making accurate estimates of fish numbers. Populations of large commercial fish species tend to level off at about ten percent of their pristine numbers after prolonged industrial exploitation as they no longer become viable to catch at this level. Fisheries managers may be unaware of the initial plenty and come to see this reduced population as normal, sometimes even regarding the fishery as healthy as the population remains relatively stable when it is actually only a shadow of its former self. On this basis it would be fair to assume that the world's oceans may have once held ten times as many fish as they do today, a sobering thought which makes a mockery of the so-called 'sustainable' industrial scale commercial fisheries.

And this situation is not without precedent. Commercial whaling focused initially on the largest species, the blue whale, but switched to progressively smaller less commercially valuable species - fin, sei, and then minke whales - as each stock of the larger species, in turn, was pushed towards extinction. The blue whale was officially protected in 1966 but has never recovered from this slaughter and has stabilised at around five to ten percent of pristine numbers. In 1982 the IWC (International Whaling Commission) applied a moratorium to all commercial whaling. International cooperation has effectively produced wide-ranging proposals and solutions to combat climate change and to a lesser degree commercial whaling, and the same is now needed for the worldwide fishing industry.

Two-thirds of the Earth is fast becoming a biological desert and if the destruction of our marine ecosystems is to be halted, and ultimately reversed, bold, systematic, and effective measures are needed now. An Intergovernmental Panel on Marine Exploitation, if backed up by proper, exhaustive fisheries science, may galvanise world opinion in a similar way that the IPCC has done for climate change.

Tuna destroyer

The Spanish owned and EU flagged tuna purse seiner "Albatun Tres" a 115 m, 3,200 GRT 'super, super seiner' that can net 3,000 tonnes of tuna in a single fishing trip. This is almost double the entire annual catch of some Pacific island countries. If the EU allows this, what hope is there for the world's fish and our marine ecosystems?

Ocean bushmeat

Most of us have seen the pictures, some of the world's most endangered animals being sold in Africa as bushmeat. A similar situation can be found in markets across the US, Europe and Asia. Instead of gorilla, chimp and serval you will find grouper, tuna and cod. We would do well to remember this: fish are wildlife too. 

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Sustainable commercial fishing is a myth

To claim that fishing on a commercial scale for any wild species of marine animal is sustainable is at best optimistic and at worse misleading.

There is NO accurate way of measuring the stock of a commercial species and in most cases scientific data provided by Governments will err on the side of optimism.

The links below provide three different sources of information about the 'sustainability' of Atlantic swordfish. If you take time to absorb the information you will realise that, whilst well meaning, it is innacurate, confusing, and smacks of guesswork.

Sustainability is the current buzzword, but to truly ensure that a wild species will survive, refuse to eat it.

Junk Science?

As the breeding season for UK seabirds is in full swing the fishing industry has got its minions busily diverting the truth away from their destructive practices.

Dr Ian Napier, of the NAFC (North Atlantic Fisheries College), said today: "The immediate cause of the seabird breeding failures is generally believed to be a shortage of food. They have trouble finding sand eels to feed their chicks. Probably what is happening is that there is some change in the ocean which is reducing the availability of food and also increasing warm water, but we don't really know the details of what the cause is." (More details of report).

The inference in this quote is that global warming is to blame for the recent terrible times our seabirds have had breeding. But may I put it to Dr Ian Napier that 'the change' that is happening in the ocean is that commercial fishermen are removing too many food fish from the ocean that these birds need to feed their young.

It is, of course, no coincidence that the NAFC just happen to release this report at the beginning of the seabird breeding season, so when the headlines start reporting, for yet another year, that our seabird chicks are starving to death, the finger of blame will point towards climate change and not the real culprit, which is overfishing, and the greed and stupidity of our fishing industries.

Marine Bill

At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century the world saw the need to protect the dwindling flora and fauna found on land. Famous parks like Kruger National Park, Yellowstone Park and Etosha were formed.

In the UK famous poets like Byron and Wordsworth inspired people to take an interest in the hitherto exploited and under appreciated countryside leading to the freedom to roam bill in 1884. The bill failed and eventually mass trespass (direct action) was seen as the only alternative and five men were imprisoned for this action.

100 years later we are in a similar, but worse, positon with our oceans, seas and coastlines. It has taken longer for the outrage of ordinary people to be felt because the damage done has not been visible.

Official Government statistics which show that two-thirds of all commercially caught fish in the UK are disgarded dead surely is the tipping point where we all should now say 'enough is enough' and finally start the sort of mass public outcry that this deserves.

This Government has promised us a Marine Bill which would start the process of protecting our seas and coastlines, but do not actually deem it important enough to pass this bill through Parliament.

So much for progressive politics, continuing to drag their heels on a priority that should probably have been looked at by the UK Government 100 years ago.

Krill catching on

As populations of once plentiful pelagic fish become exhausted many of the boats equipped to fish for these species are unfortunately starting to turn their attention to krill. Krill are a shrimp like animal that are said to represent the largest biomass on earth and are key to the health of the marine environment.

Krill fishing briefly peaked in the 1980's when the Soviet Union caught 500,000 tonnes per year but declined significantly with the fall of communism. However with severely over-exploited fish stocks and an increasing demand for fish oils and feed for the aquaculture industry the krill fishery is expected to boom in the next few years.

Companies like Aker BioMarine are developing new technology that can deliver a stream of live krill onto a vessel and is converting more vessels for krill catching, alongside its existing Saga Sea. The company says it will be able to catch 200,000 tonnes of krill a year in the near future and it is reckoned that catches could rise to one percent of the total biomass of krill, or five million tonnes a year if the total was 500 million tonnes.

Scientists say little is known about krill stocks and as a keystone marine species - they are the favoured food of whales, penguins, fish and seabirds - large scale exploitation could have dire consequences for the entire marine ecosystem.