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New study reveals Scottish aquaculture adding to pressure on world fish stocks


A new report from the Joint Marine Programme (JMP), 'Feeding the Fish', reveals that fish feed manufacturers are using threatened fish stocks to supply the Scottish aquaculture industry with salmon feed. Scotland is responsible for approximately 90% of all UK aquaculture production and ranks third in the world producers of Atlantic salmon, after Norway and Chile.The JMP in Scotland is a partnership between WWF Scotland and the Scottish Wildlife Trust aimed at ensuring the conservation of marine wildlife and a healthy marine and coastal environment.

New study reveals Scottish aquaculture adding to pressure on world fish stocks - A new report from the Joint Marine Programme (JMP), 'Feeding the Fish', reveals that fish feed manufacturers are using threatened fish stocks to supply the Scottish aquaculture industry with salmon feed. Scotland is responsible for approximately 90% of all UK aquaculture production and ranks third in the world producers of Atlantic salmon, after Norway and Chile.

The JMP in Scotland is a partnership between WWF Scotland and the Scottish Wildlife Trust aimed at ensuring the conservation of marine wildlife and a healthy marine and coastal environment. Feeding The Fish


Executive Summary - See Below

  1. Introduction
  2. Fish Meal use in Scottish Aquaculture
  3. Comparative Assessment of Feed Fish Sustainability
  4. Proposed Standards and Guidelines for Sustainable Fish Feed Supplies
  5. Feed Sustainability and the Strategic Framework for Scottish Aquaculture
Tables and Figures

Executive Summary

This study has been commissioned by the Joint Marine Programme, a partnership between the Scottish Wildlife Trust and WWF Scotland, and RSPB Scotland. It is intended to examine the sustainability of fish feeds used in the Scottish finfish aquaculture industry, and to make recommendations on how the industry and the Scottish Executive can work towards a more sustainable aquaculture industry in Scotland. The work has been conducted by independent consultants Poseidon Aquatic Resource Management Ltd.

Scottish Fish Farm Production and Feed Supplies

Finfish farming in Scotland is dominated by salmon (96%) and trout (3.7%) production together with a small but growing marine finfish sector (currently less than 0.5% production). An important rural employer, the industry has seen a steady growth since its start in the 1970s and despite a number of challenges, such as disease and growing competition from abroad, is still anticipated to expand further by around 16% by 2010.

to 45% and with an oil range of 15-38%. Despite substantial efforts to substitute fishmeal with other protein sources, success has been limited by growth and performance constraints. Therefore the fishmeal content of salmonid feeds is unlikely to fall by more than 25% before 2010, although the replacement of up to 50% of fish oil with vegetable substitutes is technically possible but may face retail and consumer resistance. However there is also some doubt about the sustainability of some of the substitutes themselves.

95% of feeds used by the Scottish industry are manufactured by three companies, all with feed mills in or near Scotland. Current fishmeal consumption by these plants for aquaculture use is around 105,000 tonnes (t) per annum and is sourced from the UK (24%), Iceland (22%), Norway (16%), Denmark (12%), Chile (10%) and Peru (9%) with the balance from other sources such as Ireland. Therefore South American imports contribute between 15-30% of Scottish aquaculture-directed consumption, with the majority (70 85%) coming from Northern European sources. Of the 50,000 t oil used for Scottish fish feeds, the majority is from Iceland with some from South American sources and 20% is of Irish and UK origin.

Industry figures suggest that currently (2003) around 54% of feed fish-derived fishmeal comes from Northern Hemisphere sources, 28% from the Southern Hemisphere resources and the balance from whitefish trimmings and pelagic offal. These figures also suggest a small (5%) increase in the Southern Hemisphere proportion by 2010, with the contribution of trimmings and offal-derived fishmeal staying more or less static. The proportion of fish oil purchased from Northern Hemisphere sources is even higher at nearly 66% against the 17% from the Southern Hemisphere and 18% from trimmings and offal again industry sources suggest a greater contribution from southern hemisphere feed fishes at the expense of those from the Northern Hemisphere.

The main species used for making Scottish fish feeds from the Northern Hemisphere countries are blue whiting, capelin, sandeel, horse mackerel, Norwegian pout and sprat, whilst those from the Southern hemisphere include Peruvian anchovy with some Chilean jack mackerel and sardine. The domestic (UK) production destined for aquaculture feeds in Scotland consists of herring and mackerel offal, blue whiting, sandeel and whitefish trimmings.

The purchasing and specification of fishmeals for aquaculture feeds is a complex issue. Decision-making is based on a combination of forward pricing together with a demand for quality (principally freshness) and the specification of the material required (depends upon the age, species and their special dietary needs), usability (i.e. based upon the suitability for the millers machinery). Whilst most feed manufacturers state that they only procure from sustainable sources, this is usually based upon the Fishmeal Information Network (FIN) Sustainability Dossier, an annually updated assessment initiated by the Grain and Feed Trade Association (GAFTA) and funded by the UK Seafish Industry Authority (SFIA). This is essentially limited to examining stock assessment reports and the presence of regulatory frameworks and does not include some key elements such as wider ecosystem impacts, the depth of knowledge supporting management of the industry and how regulatory compliance is effected.

Sustainability of Feed Fish Stocks Used

This study builds upon an earlier report produced for RSPB Scotland, whereby a series of criteria and indicators for the sustainability of feed fisheries have been developed, mainly from the internationallyrecognised Marine Stewardship Council Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Fishing (see The MSC model, and the adapted model used in this study, incorporate a set of sustainability principles fundamental to assessing the sustainability of fisheries, including information of the non-target species impacts, regulatory compliance levels, availability of key information and knowledge relevant to sustainability as well as economic and social factors.

The assessment looks at six of the main feed fish species used for fishmeal and oil production in Scottish finfish aquaculture (Peruvian anchovy, jack mackerel, capelin, blue whiting, sandeel and horse mackerel) and serves to demonstrate the sustainability of feed fish stocks is still far from certain. Efforts have been made to regulate sandeel and capelin catches more effectively. Nevertheless, the sustainability of these stocks remains uncertain due to their rapid achievement of maturity, lack of information on stock size and on measures needed to take account of climate change, as well as on the impact of the fisheries for these important prey species upon other fish, mammals and seabirds and the recovery of depleted fish stocks. The Peruvian anchovy stock may be in reasonable shape, but not enough is known about recovery rates after El Niño events, the effects of an increasing pelagic fleet or the wider environmental impacts of this large fishery which contributes to over half the global fish meal supplies. It is therefore impossible to conclude whether this fishery is sustainable or not. The other fisheries, in particular the blue whiting in the North-east Atlantic, cannot be described as sustainable in their current form. The blue whiting is overfished and dependent upon previous good year classes that have protected the stock from severe depletion.

The study also briefly examines the environmental costs of importing fishmeal and oils from South America in terms of fossil fuel consumption and exhaust emissions. The low levels of lipophilic Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) found in these oils compared to some Scandinavian oils may contribute to a preference for the South America fish oils. In addition, despite their lower protein levels and digestibility, the demand for Chilean or Peruvian fishmeal is mainly driven by its suitability for small fish (<1 kg) diets where their high histidine levels are advantageous. Thus there is usually a steady demand for these fishmeals, usually amounting to between 10 and 30% of that consumed in Scottish aquaculture. The transport of these materials by bulk or container transport inevitably incurs some environmental costs (e.g. producing around 4,900 t CO2 per year) that could be avoided if supplies were procured solely from nearby European sources. However, given the preferred use of histidine-rich meals from South America for starter diets1, this is unlikely indeed the industry is forecasting that the proportion of these meals will increase by 2010 (see above).

Practical Constraints to Supplying Sustainable Feeds

There are practical constraints that must be overcome if feed manufacturers are to supply the Scottish industry with sustainable fish feed. These include:

  • Feed Fish Sustainability Criteria: as recognised by FIN (Anne Chamberlain, pers. comm.), the FIN Sustainability Dossier does not provide a holistic framework for assessing the sustainability of feed fish stocks. The MSC-derived framework used by this study is considered an important step forward here, but this needs to be further developed so that it can act as an independently verifiable mechanism for assessing the degree to which a fishery is achieving sustainability over a wide range of criteria and where further research, management and operational improvements can be made.

  • Traceability: many fishmeals and oils lack traceability, especially those that are blended. However this situation is changing, as the industry is adopting the Universal Feed Assurance Scheme (UFAS) that will demand full traceability of feed materials by the beginning of 2005.

  • Nutritional Performance: seasonal and stock-related characteristics may mean that certain less sustainable meals are either superior in quality or may only be available for a certain period when more sustainable stocks are closed or fully utilised.

  • Supply assurance: if fish mills were to restrict their purchasing to sustainable supplies only, this would restrict the already narrow supply base and inevitably impact prices. In the case of fish oils, where it is predicted that demand will overtake supply in the medium term, this is of particular concern, especially considering the resistance of retailers and consumers to using vegetable oil substitutes.

  • Buying power: the Scottish finfish industry is a relatively small player in the fishmeal market, consuming only about 2.5% of the world supply2. Therefore the freedom to choose certain fishmeals and oils may become more restricted. This lack of leverage in the global market is one of the industrys greatest concerns over moving to only sustainable sources of fish meal and fish oil.
Recommendations and Integration of the Studys Findings into the Strategic Framework for Scottish Aquaculture

A series of draft standards, in the form of purchasing guidelines have been included in this study. These include:
  • Development of a structured sustainability framework to be adopted by the industry that reflects a more holistic view of which fisheries are sustainable and those which are not.
  • The feed manufacturers should insist on greater traceability from their suppliers this is likely to develop as the adoption of the UFAS (Universal Feed Assurance Scheme) and FEMAS (Feed Materials Assurance Scheme) schemes takes place towards 2005.
  • Fish feed manufacturers should adopt a time-bound strategy for sourcing fishmeal from sustainable sources only. This should include other options such as reducing overall fishmeal and fish oil use through substitution and improved feeding practices. This move will have to have the support of the farming sector and retailers as this cannot be achieved by the feed industry alone.
  • To assist in developing sustainable supplies, fish feed manufacturers should consider the use of decision-support software that provides forward looking information on sustainable feed fish availability, quality and pricing.
  • Feed suppliers could look at incorporating Environment Management Systems (EMS) to ISO 14001 or equivalent that supports environmentally responsible buying practices and strategies. Experience shows that these can often be cost-effective in the longer-term.
  • The Scottish fish farming industry should engage this as a positive opportunity to further develop their premium brand image through a strategy to minimise and phase out use of unsustainable feed fish species.
The recommendations made above build upon the Strategic Framework for Scottish Aquaculture that considered the development of sustainable fishmeal and fish oil supplies as one of four priority research topics for the Scottish Aquaculture Research Forum (SARF). This study essentially provides the first part of the Feed Sustainability Study proposed in the Framework. The next step for the Scottish Executive and Scottish fish farming and feed production industry is to create a detailed strategy for sustainable fish feed within the Framework. This should build on the draft standards recommended by this study, with the ultimate aim of encouraging the more sustainable feed fisheries to become independently certified, promoting the development of sustainable alternatives to fish meal and fish oil and the incorporation into fish feed of fish processing waste and unavoidable discard material.

1 Artificial histidine is banned and retailers are averse to the use of blood meal that contains high levels of histidine.

2 The Peoples Republic of China (PRC) is by far the largest consumer of fishmeal (27%), with Japan (13%) and Thailand (7%) also major consumers. Consumption fluctuates from year to year, largely due to the influence of the El Nio on South American production, but the overall change (between 1997 and 2001) has been negligible (down 4%). Similarly the consumption of fish oils have also little changed over the past five years, although again there is strong inter-annual variation. The main users are Chile (7.3%) and Norway (6.6%) in 2001 respectively, reflecting the high level of salmonid production in these countries. Total UK use of fishmeal and fish oils in 2001 was 4.2% and 2.1% of global consumption respectively.

To read this 49 page PDF report Click Here

Source: Scottish Wildlife Trust - September 2004