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Fresh furore over use of fishmeal and fish oil in aquafeeds

15 October 2019, at 9:03am

A new report by the Dutch-based Changing Markets Foundation claims that retailers, including top UK supermarkets, are linked to “illegal, unsustainable fishing operations in India, Vietnam and The Gambia”.

The report, Fishing for Catastrophe, maps fishmeal and fish oil (FMFO) supply chains and claims that the retailers are linked to these operations as they sell farmed seafood products whose diets have included fishmeal and fish oil (FMFO) from unsustainable fisheries.

The cover of the new Changing Markets' report, which offers a powerful critique of the fishmeal and fish oil sectors
The cover of the new Changing Markets' report, which offers a powerful critique of the fishmeal and fish oil sectors

It claims that “supermarkets including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer, Lidl, Aldi, Asda, Iceland, Morrison’s, Waitrose and The Co-Op sell farmed seafood products, including salmon and prawns, which are causing fish stocks to collapse and taking a key source of protein away from some of the world’s poorest communities, due to the aquaculture industry’s reliance on FMFO for fish feed.”

It adds that: “Many farmed-fish products, including Scottish salmon, are labelled as certified sustainable despite the damaging impact of the FMFO industry on marine ecosystems.”

However, this has been vigourously denied by Scottish salmon farmers whose trade body, the SSPO, responded to the report by stating: “Companies providing feed for Scottish farm-raised salmon have confirmed that none of them uses ingredients from the Gambia, Vietnam or India or from reef fishing – the main thrust of the criticism highlighted in the report. Any claim or suggestion that Scottish feed suppliers are sourcing from these fisheries would be wrong, misleading and inaccurate.

“Scotland’s feed suppliers will continue to ensure their ingredients are sourced from responsible and sustainable fisheries, allowing Scotland’s salmon farmers to achieve the best feed conversion ratios of any livestock, thus ensuring best use of marine resources.”

The authors of Fishing for Catastrophe claimed that “while retailers take assurances from FMFO trade body IFFO about supply chain sustainability at face value, dozens of IFFO members and certified companies are linked to unsustainable and illegal fishing practices.”

And Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who is supporting the campaign, said: “I saw for myself while making my Fish Fight programmes that fishmeal for the aquaculture industry – producing UK supermarket favourites like prawns and salmon – is being sourced in a way that is devastating to the marine environment, and to the wild fish stocks that make up much of the feed.

“It’s increasingly clear that even products certified as sustainably produced are based on aquaculture that is sourcing fishmeal in deeply irresponsible ways. The bottom line is that we need to stop taking wild fish out of the ocean to feed farmed fish, before it’s too late.”

However, Petter Martin Johannessen, IFFO director general, has refuted this, stating: The majority of wild-caught fish is responsibly sourced. In addition, raw material for fishmeal and fish oil comes increasingly from byproducts (one third currently) that are left over after fish for food have been processed. Fishmeal and fish oil produced from these resources are used to provide many times more volume of edible fish through aquaculture than are consumed as raw material. The small pelagic fish species that form the bulk of the fisheries dedicated to fishmeal and fish oil production are a highly productive, natural resource with no, or very limited, food markets. It is a good way to use material that would otherwise not be consumed. Their transformation into fishmeal and fish oil supports global protein production: quality feed means quality food.”

The report also questions the credibility of the certification standard for the FMFO industry (IFFO RS) as “a sustainability smokescreen, with IFFO simultaneously functioning as the FMFO industry trade association, representing the interests of the sector by promoting the use of FMFO and lobbying to defend the industry.”

But IFFO RS has responded, claiming that it “welcomes this opportunity to clarify how it operates as an independent third party standard” and notes that the organisation was formed after input from key environmental NGOs including WWF, SFP and MCS.

According to IFFO RS: “It ensures independent certification of the scheme via third party inspection and accreditation to internationally recognised standards such as ISO 17065. This is further endorsed through IFFO RS’s Membership of ISEAL, the global membership association for credible sustainability standards.”

While the allegations facing IFFO, IFFO RS and leading retailers have been refuted, Fishing for Catastrope also argues that FMFO production is accelerating the decline of fish stocks and diverting fish from human consumption in India, Vietnam and The Gambia.

Key issues in The Gambia

The report claims that in the Gambia:

  • FMFO destined for human consumption has been exported with falsified food safety certificates.
  • The fish catch of just one of the Gambia’s three FMFO plants accounted for approximately 40 percent of the country’s total reported catches in 2016, revealing the massive scale of this new industry in the country.
  • Pollution from FMFO production is destroying The Gambia’s budding eco-tourism industry.
  • At least one Gambian plant sells most of its fishmeal to Vietnam which is then relabelled on the black market for re-export to China, the world’s largest aquafeed producer, circumventing the absence of a fishmeal export agreement between the two countries.

Key issues in Vietnam

The report claims that in Vietnam:

  • Significant under-reporting of catches is enabling overfishing to continue unchecked. Catches destined for FMFO factories are not being reported to authorities.
  • Lack of fish is leading to widespread fishing in foreign waters, which stokes regional tensions.
  • Fish stocks are in decline. For example, fishermen in Vung Tau Province reported their lowest catches ever in 2018, due to overfishing for FMFO.
  • Highly unsustainable fishing techniques are being used and fishing is indiscriminate, targeting species not traditionally used for FMFO.
  • Pollution from FMFO production is blighting people’s lives.

Key issues in India

The report claims that in India:

 

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  • The sudden monetisation of ‘trash fish’ brought about by the FMFO industry has resulted in the proliferation of ‘non-fishermen’ looking for short term returns.
  • Fish stocks of species traditionally used for FMFO have collapsed.
  • The FMFO industry is indiscriminate: juvenile fish, species traditionally destined for human consumption and reef fish are all being used to produce FMFO.
  • FMFO plants generally by-pass traditional auctions and secure a fishing vessel’s entire catch with upfront payment.
  • Powerless to reject the industry’s advances, fisherpeople are using more damaging methods of fishing and poor preservation (spoiling edible fish) and selling to plants rather than at auction.
  • Local communities are affected by air and water pollution from FMFO production.

Recommendations from Changing Markets

Changing Markets has offered the following series of recommendations to ‘protect finite and rapidly dwindling global fish stocks’:

Aquafeed industry

  • Stop using wild-caught fish and switch to more sustainable alternatives – the use of FMFO from whole wild fish must be phased out across the entire industry for transformational change to take place.
  • Ensure that alternative feed sources do not give rise to other ecological problems.

Aquaculture industry

  • Prioritise cultivating species that require no feed (eg shellfish) less feed (eg tilapia), or that can be fed an entirely vegetarian diet (eg carp).
  • For species that require feed, push aquafeed producers to provide genuinely sustainable alternatives to aquafeed containing FMFO.