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Guidelines for the Use of Wild Fish as Feed in Aquaculture

FAO has published technical guidelines on the use of wild fish as feed in aquaculture to support sections of FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (CCRF) addressing responsible fisheries management and aquaculture development. The objective of these guidelines is to assist those concerned to ensure both aquaculture growth and equitable and sustained use of available fish stocks.

These technical guidelines are based on ten principles and encompass five key issues: a) fisheries management considerations, b) ecosystem and environmental impacts, c) ethical issues and responsible use, d) aquaculture technology and development, and e) statistics and information needs for management.

Principle 1:

Aquaculture should utilise resources from sustainably managed fisheries.

In the past decades, there has been an increasing awareness that sustainable stocks of wild fish are essential to secure the supply of raw material that the seafood industry relies on and are vital in maintaining volumes and quality, as well as stabilising price. The future goal is to use feed fish from certified “responsibly managed” fisheries.

It is important that aquaculture makes a progressive move towards sourcing feed fish exclusively from better managed and more sustainable fisheries. However, currently, the main buying criteria for fishmeal for inclusion in aquafeeds are price and quality. Beyond ensuring that fish are purchased from stocks that are managed within national and international laws and agreements, there has been little attempt to procure feed fish from “sustainable sources” and that change is needed to take this into account.

Guidelines under Principle 1

Principle 2:

Where wild aquatic organisms are harvested for use as feed, responsible fisheries management frameworks should be put in place and implemented.

This principle applies to the major reduction fisheries of the world, which are typically managed fisheries whose stocks are specifically targeted for use as feed. In other cases, feed fish are derived from fisheries that are not managed, i.e. where trash fish/low-value fish are directly targeted for use as feed, or where the fish is derived from the bycatch of targeted fisheries and landed for use as feed.

Technical guidelines for the management of reduction and feed-fish fisheries have been developed to address these issues (Annexes 1, 2, 3 and 4).

Guidelines under Principle 2

Ecosystem and environmental impacts

Principle 3:

Reduction fishery and directed feed-fish fishery operations should not significantly impact the environment or create significant negative ecosystem-level impacts, including impacts on biodiversity.

Small pelagic stocks are usually resilient to high exploitation levels, but their robustness can be compromised by wider climatic and other perturbations. Environmental concerns regarding the use of large volumes of bycatch include the possible wider biodiversity and ecological impacts resulting from the removal of such a large and diverse biomass. Due to the small size and low age of small pelagics, the stocks are difficult to manage on a multi-annual basis.

While their high fecundity allows for rapid recovery, there is concern over the impact of fishing pressure on predator-prey relationships in already stressed ecosystems. The increased dependence of the aquaculture sector on marine capture fisheries as a feed source is a matter of concern for their management.

Guidelines under Principle 3

Ethical issues and responsible use

Principle 4:

Using fish as feed should not adversely impact the livelihoods and compromise food security of poor and vulnerable groups, especially those directly dependent upon the resource.

Supplies of trash fish/low-value fish are finite and, as indicated by recent price increases, demand is outstripping supply. It has been argued that it would be more efficient and ethical to divert more of the limited supply to human food by using value-added products, than to supply fishmeal plants for an export, income-oriented aquaculture industry producing high-value commodities. On the other hand, food security can also be increased by improving the incomegeneration abilities of poor people; the basis of this statement is that the large number of people employed in both the fishing and aquaculture sectors contributes towards food security and poverty alleviation, which contributes more to sustainable livelihoods than only a supply of cheap fish.

However, an increasing demand for particular fish resources by the fish-feed industry may have a negative impact on food security. Clearly, where such imbalances exist, they need to be addressed by governments and aquaculture and fishfeed manufacturing industries so that the distribution of the resources is equitable and does not have a detrimental effect on basic nutritional needs of local communities. Therefore, understanding the negative social impacts stemming from the use of fish for feed is necessary. It is recognised that there are inevitable trade-offs relating to resource allocation. Therefore, in the application of the principles on such practices, care should be taken to mitigate negative social and economic impacts.

Guidelines under Principle 4

Principle 5:

The use of fish as feed should not be governed by market forces alone.

While recognising that food insecurity and poor nutrition are social problems that need to be addressed broadly and with more fundamental measures, appropriate market intervention to enable equitable access to fish resources – whether food fish or feed fish – by the poor will contribute to promoting their food security.

The market generally favours the use of feed fish for reduction or for direct use in aquaculture. In Southeast and East Asia, where the proportion of bycatch is high (adding to the reasons that the poor have diminishing access to cheap fish), this is abetted by poor technology and practices that render fish, particularly bycatch, unfit for the food market. Investments in better technology for onboard quality preservation would maintain the quality of food-grade bycatch so that it can be sold as food fish. As food-grade fish, bycatch is expected to fetch a higher price than as an input to fishmeal production. As an effective short-term measure, appropriate incentives (subsidy) for fishers to invest in such technology can encourage its adoption.

It is also technically feasible to treat feed-fish species as food fish and market them to the poor. For economic (e.g. unattractive margin for producers and sellers) and probably cultural reasons (e.g. low preference for the species), this is seldom done on a significant scale. As a result, no dramatic change over the medium term is foreseen in the proportion of feed-fish species being used directly as food. However, for a number of feed-fish species that are acceptable as food (e.g. herring, sardines, anchovy), there has been a slow but noticeable increase in the quantities used as food. Similarly, some species previously considered to be of low value as food are now targeted to produce surimi. The factors that influence their demand by the poor include their affordability and the poor’s preference for them. Another influence on the amount of feed fish that can be allocated for the food market is the price of other protein commodities, particularly soybean; a lower price is expected to lessen the demand for fishmeal for feed manufacture.

Guidelines under Principle 5

Principle 6:

Formulation of policies related to the use of fish as feed should not exclude other users of this primary resource.

To date, governments have not effectively limited the practice of using fish as feed in order to safeguard a supply of cheap fish – either by limiting the use of small pelagic fish for the production of fishmeal and fish oil or by restricting the use of bycatch as animal feed and thereby increasing the supply of cheap fish as food. This may be due to greater focus on creating employment rather than looking after the immediate food requirements of the poor.

It has been shown that employment is the best way to alleviate poverty, which in turn leads to improved nutritional status because of the resultant higher purchasing power. However, policies should be balanced to ensure employment opportunities as well as to enhance the availability of fish affordable for poor people.

Guidelines under Principle 6

Aquaculture technology and development

Principle 7:

Aquaculture should be encouraged to make a progressive move away from using wet fish as feed to formulated/compound feeds.

Formulated/compound feeds (which include industrially produced pellets and farm-made aquafeeds) are preferable to the use of wet fish as feed, as they increase the flexibility of raw material options and allow for additional control over such characteristics as product consistency, nutritional quality, transport volume, stability and hygiene. Therefore, the use of formulated feeds should lead to improved environmental performance and enhanced overall efficiency at the farm level.

It is recognised that the use of formulated feeds may not be appropriate in all circumstances, especially in locations with poor infrastructure or where wet-fish supplies are available from sustainable fisheries. Thus, this issue should be treated on a case-by-case basis using cost-benefit analyses that incorporate environmental and social parameters, where possible.

Guidelines under Principle 7

Principle 8:

The use of fish as feed should not compromise food safety and quality of aquaculture products.

Use of environmentally contaminated fishmeal and fish oil within aquafeeds may have a consequent potential risk of transferring contaminants to the cultured species and eventually to the consumer (Hites et al., 2004a, 2004b; Foran et al., 2005), either by concentration of pollutants through the food chain or via the production and distribution process.

Moreover, trash fish/low-value fish used as feed could be a source of parasites that may threaten human health. Certain pathogens (e.g. Salmonella) derived from raw materials or feed ingredients may also colonise and persist in feed manufacturing facilities and could be transmitted to aquaculture ponds/cages. In addition, the use of highly perishable trash-fish-based feed has in some instances resulted in increased environmental pollution (Tacon et al., 1991; Ottolenghi et al., 2004). This in turn may lead to increased biosecurity and disease risks (Gill, 2000; SCAHAW, 2003; Hardy, 2004; Anon, 2005).

Guidelines under Principle 8

Principle 9:

The use of alternative raw materials (of both animal and plant origin) should not compromise food safety and the quality of aquaculture products.

Significant progress has been made to reduce the dependence on fishmeal and fish oil through substitution with proteins and oils of terrestrial origin. However, the presence of dioxins, polychlorinated biphenols (PCBs) and other persistent organic pollutant (POP) residues in human food products of animal origin is a potential problem that has recently become particularly important.

The increasing demand to include alternate protein ingredients of plant or animal origin into aquafeeds could have negative impacts due to the presence of antinutritional/toxic factors and/or biological hazards and contaminants if these are not carefully controlled.

Guidelines under Principle 9

Statistics and information needs for management

Principle 10:

Management of reduction and feed-fish fisheries or those with high levels of bycatch, which is used directly or indirectly as feed fish, requires sound biological, ecological and environmental data, as well as supply and value chain information and a participatory decision-making process that includes all stakeholders (fishery operators, traders, aquafeed and aquaculture producer associations).

The sustainability of fisheries used to provide feeds for farmed fish has become a key concern for the entire aquaculture supply chain. The marine protein component of feeds represents the direct link between capture fisheries and aquaculture. In many instances, historical trends in the catch and catch composition, catch per unit effort (CPUE), fish quality and economic value of the fisheries that produce fish for feed are not recorded or are poorly recorded. This is particularly the case for mixed-assemblage, multigear fisheries where there is non-selective targeting. Larger demersal and pelagic fisheries are generally better understood, managed and monitored.

Guidelines under Principle 10

January 2012

Lucy Towers

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