Aker assumes more dominant place in krill market with addition of new vessel

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Antarctic Endurance is Aker's newest krill harvesting vessel.  It was christened in mid January in Ålesund, Norway.  Aker BioMarine photo.
Antarctic Endurance is Aker's newest krill harvesting vessel. It was christened in mid January in Ålesund, Norway. Aker BioMarine photo.
Aker BioMarine, the world’s largest harvest of krill, used for krill oil supplements and feed products, has gotten even bigger with the inauguration of a new harvesting vessel.

The vessel will operate out of Montevideo, Uruguay. Like the others in Aker’s fleet, it will fish for krill in the far South Atlantic Ocean off of the Antarctic Peninsula.  With the addition of the new vessel Aker will now bring in somewhere around 70% of the world harvest of krill.

Aker BioMarine is part of the Aker group, a diversified company with operations in oil field services, shipping and fishing.  The parent company is based in Oslo, Norway.

Ever increasing demand

The demand for krill products has been ramping up rapidly in recent years, driven by increasing acceptance as a supplement ingredient as well as the demand for aquaculture feed.  Aker markets a line of aquaculture products labeled Qrill.  In the farming of salmon it has a particular application in helping the juvenile fish to better adapt to transfer to seawater pens from the fresh water tanks where the eggs hatch.  In nature, this transition takes place over a period of weeks in the brackish waters of river mouths.

Krill oil also contains astaxanthin, a carotenoid that gives salmon flesh its deep red color. Salmon farming is big business in the fjords of southern Chile. After a tumultuous history that has included widespread disease events and a recent “spill,” or escape of farmed fish, the business nevertheless earned the country more than $4 billion last year​.

In human nutrition products, krill oil has been gaining acceptance as an alternative to fish oils for the delivery of omega-3s.  Krill oil has a phospholipid chemical structure as opposed to the triglyceride or ethyl ester forms of fish oil supplements.  This leads to reports of easier digestibility among many consumers. 

In addition, Aker has invested in new processing technology at its captive processing plant in Houston, TX. The new technology not only allows for higher concentrations of the krill oil, which can spur new product development, but also goes a long way toward removing the fractions that give the base oil its unpalatable bait bucket odor. 

Vessel incorporates what Aker has learned

Project Manager Eldar Vindvik (2)
Eldar Vindvik, project manager for Aker BioMarine

The new vessel incorporates everything Aker has learned is its decade plus history in the krill fishery, said Eldar Vindvik, Aker’s project manager.  It is named the Antarctic Endurance, after the ship that British Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton sailed to continent in 1914.  After the ship was crushed in an ice floe, Shackleton and his crew survived an epic test of perseverance.  Shackleton was able to bring his all of his men through after months trapped in the ice.

The ship, which was built in Norway, is 129.6 meters long overall, or about 425 feet, and is driven by a Caterpillar marine diesel engine driving a ducted propeller via an electric motor.  The ship also has fixed and retractable bow thrusters for greater maneuverability.

“Utilizing a number of innovative processes and technologies onboard, the vessel is 30% more environmentally friendly, compared to today's trawlers,” ​Vindvik told NutraIngredients-USA. 

“Along with reflecting the core operational needs of our business, the new vessel has been designed and equipped to maximize energy efficiency. For example, in the production we re-use the remaining heat and pressure from the steam condensate to generate new steam. The vessel also utilizes the heat from the engine systems for accommodation heating,” ​he added.

Better support for the science behind the fishery

Vindvik said the ship was designed with greater laboratory capacity than Aker’s previous vessels, which have been retrofitted from other types of fishing.  The extra lab space will help Aker better support the ongoing research into the life cycles of krill and the health of the overall biomass.  Krill, which are small, shrimplike creatures that gather in great swarms in Antarctic waters, form the basis of the food chain in the region.

Aker cooperates with CCAMLR, or the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.  This is a multi national group that governs the harvest of Antarctic biomass, primarily toothfish and krill.

The maximum krill harvest level is set at a tiny fraction of the theoretical overall biomass.  Pinning down that overall biomass number is the critical part of that equation.  It is expected that the enhanced scientific capabilities of the new vessel will help in conducting more comprehensive and accurate population surveys in the future.

The lab is considerably bigger than on other vessels, packed with the newest technology and equipment. We have used years of experience to design and build this state-of-the art onboard lab,” ​Vindvik said.

“Every year we collect data for CCAMLR through biomass investigations of transects, and this vessel will be part of this effort. Some scientists have already visited the vessel to inspect the facilities. We are offering cabins and research facilities at no cost,”​ he said.

Aker BioMarine will feature its complete line of products and information about its supply chain at its booth No. 4783 at the upcoming Natural Products Expo West trade show at Anaheim, CA.

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