China looking to become No 1 in Antarctic krill

The growth of the Chinese appetite for seafood has been well-established for several years now, but there is evidence that the Chinese appetite – and its fishing industry – is also expanding to include krill, specifically Antarctic krill.

“The main target is products for human consumption, more specifically krill oil,” said Dimitri Sclabos, whose company, Tharos, a Chilean consultancy, designed the business model and processing concept for the Chinese trawler companies involved. “The Chinese market is eagerly waiting for them, but the goal is to cover the Western market too.”

China has a burgeoning population of middle to upper socio-economic class consumers – the country is now officially the world’s No 1 economic power – so it is actively seeking products which might previously have just been consumed in western countries. “Middle-high class Chinese demand is robust and insisting on high quality products,” Sclabos said. “They [Chinese trawler companies] will implement new technologies to reach these goals.”

Trawlers from a number of countries have prosecuted the huge Antarctic krill fishery over the years although in terms of current catch effort the industry is concentrated in Norwegian hands. Companies from South Korea are still very active in the fishery, as is Ukraine, but other countries which were fishing for krill, such as Japan and Poland, have given up.

China first sent trawlers to fish for krill in the South Atlantic Ocean (Antarctic seas) about five years ago and there are eight Chinese-flagged trawlers registered for the 2014-2015 krill fishing season, although not all of them will reach the fishery this season. It is only a matter of time before the country becomes the largest player in the South Antarctic krill fishery, according to Sclabos.

“Two Chinese companies, Dalian Fishing Company and Shanghai Fisheries, sent vessels to fish for krill in the Southern Ocean in 2011”, he said. “Dalian Fishing Company has the backing of the Chinese government through various types of subsidies both on land and at sea.

“So far it has made good progress in deep-sea processing, and in the 2012-2013 krill fishing season, it manufactured around 2,000 metric tons (MT) of South Antarctic krill meat, dried krill meal and human-grade frozen minced krill, among other products.”

While not that many Chinese companies are involved in fishing and at-sea processing of krill, several have become involved in the market side of the value chain. However, they cannot yet compete with the efficiency and quality of end products of krill processors from other countries.

Tharos, which has been advising on the utilization of krill in the Southern Ocean for more than 25 years, has invented and developed an internationally patented revolutionary process for the at-sea extraction of phospholipids rich krill oil.

Unlike all other extraction methods currently being used, the Tharos principle doesn’t use solvents and therefore leaves no residue in the final product. Sclabos is one of the inventors of the process and claims it to be highly cost efficient. “And our process is chemical free while all current processes used to extract phospholipids rich krill oil are done on land and use solvents.”

‘Several operators are working round the clock to come up with a solution that mimics Tharos’ solvent-free and highly cost efficient process,” he said. “However, being a patent protected method, we bring a safe solution to operators currently discussing ways of collaboration with us.”

According to Sclabos, Chinese onboard krill processing was an area lacking efficient and high-quality driven engineering solutions. “But new Chinese players have brought updated technologies, and most importantly, the drive to achieve efficient operations and the highest possible quality of end products.

“The final objective of those involved in the Chinese krill industry,” he added, “is to fulfil the expected demand of at last 3,000 MT of krill oil from 2015 to 2017. This demand is down to the demands of young middle class consumers who are concerned about their health and see krill oil as a novel alternative to accomplish this target.

“Ten thousand metric tons of dried krill material (feed and food applications) complete the expected Chinese demand.”

It remains to be seen whether China will fulfil its objectives. But the signs are encouraging, or ominous depending on which way the situation is regarded. After all, although krill is the largest fisheries biomass in the world and still relatively unexploited, it is a mistake to think that it will last forever and the market is ready to take whatever is produced.


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