Prospects for a sustainable increase in the availability of long chain omega 3s: lessons from the Antarctic krill fishery.
• The global summit on nutrition, health and human behaviour (GSNHHB) identified the objective of increasing “the availability of long chain Omega‐3 (especially docosahexaenoic acid) for human consumption in a sustainable, environmentally responsible way”.
• The objectives of management for sustainability include maintaining continuity of supply and limiting negative impacts. These objectives have associated challenges which are best illustrated using a case study.
• Marine fisheries are likely to remain the main source of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) for the foreseeable future. I use the example of the Antarctic krill fishery, which is a minor but high value source of DHA, to illustrate the issues, processes, actors and risks involved in attempting to manage natural resources in a sustainable, environmentally responsible way.
• One of the key issues is uncertainty: The natural state of ecosystems, how they respond to exploitation, and how these responses will be affected by environmental change are not clearly understood. The solution is to use “precautionary” measures, which often means catching less than is theoretically possible, and additional restrictions on where the fishery can operate.
• The “sustainability” of the Antarctic krill fishery has been questioned in a way that has impacted the delivery of Antarctic krill products to consumers. In reality, the fishery is one of only 3% of fisheries worldwide that the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations considers “under-exploited” and one of the few that have a management approach committed to limiting impacts on the both the target stock and the wider ecosystem. Disagreement arises partly because there is no universal agreement about the definitions of “sustainable” and “environmentally responsible” or about the standards of evidence required to support a claim. A potential solution is to identify the different objectives that people have for the ecosystem, and to agree acceptable trade-offs, levels of risk, and standards of evidence. This approach is compatible with the ecosystem approach to fisheries recommended by the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development.
• The GSNHHB’s commitment to sustainability is a positive step which should be followed by engagement with suppliers to support the appropriate management and recovery of fished ecosystems.
• GSNHHB’s objectives imply an increase in supply beyond the capacity of marine fisheries and therefore the development of alternative sources.
• The steps towards sustainability are similar for all sources. They include identifying the different objectives that people have for the source ecosystem, evaluating the risks of not achieving these objectives, establishing trade-offs between objectives, and ensuring appropriate monitoring. It is essential for groups with an interest in source ecosystems to work with each other, and with scientists and managers, to achieve these steps.