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Wasteful and unsustainable: the use of wild fish to feed farmed fish

News Section Icon Published 16/04/2019

 

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According to a hard-hitting new report that was launched today, millions of tonnes of fish are being harvested from the wild every year to produce fishmeal and fish oil (FMFO) - key ingredients of farmed fish feeds - threatening food security and risking a collapse of marine life.

Until the seas run dry: how industrial aquaculture is plundering the oceans”, published by Compassion in World Farming and the Changing Markets Foundation, reviews the latest scientific research on the impact of reduction fisheries (where wild fish are turned into FMFO), and the lack of transparency and sustainability in the aquafeed sector. It highlights that major aquafeed producers, including Cargill Aqua Nutrition, Skretting, Mowi (formerly Marine Harvest) and Biomarource raw materials from West African and Latin American countries, where the industry is undermining food security and the health of ecosystems through unsustainable fishing practices and polluting fishmeal factories. 

The report voices grave concerns about the environmental and human rights impacts of using FMFO in aquaculture feed, produced by a multi-billion euro industry, and calls for an end to this practice. In addition to its detrimental impact on food security and the marine environment, the practice is driving overfishing, illegal fishing and human rights abuses in wild fishery operations.

Natasha Hurley, Campaign Manager at the Changing Markets Foundation said “Aquaculture has been hailed as delivering affordable, healthy protein, as well as diverting pressure from overfished wild-capture fish stocks. This report finds the industry is failing to deliver on this promise as a result of its continued reliance on wild-caught fish. Urgent action is required to increase transparency and sustainability in the aquafeed industry’s supply chain, and to wean it completely off its reliance on fish caught in the wild.”

In recent years, up to 45 fishmeal factories have been built along the West African coast, from Senegal to Mauritania. Many of these are Chinese-owned, processing pelagic fish into fishmeal. Highly polluting, their presence has sparked local protests leading to the closure of some plants. Additionally, intense exploitation of marine resources in the region has resulted in over 50% of fishing resources being overfished while the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has recommended the reduction of sardinella fishing in the region.

In Peru, where the biggest single species reduction fishery is located, a recent report revealed that every year around 150,000 tonnes of Peruvian anchovy, intended for direct human consumption, are used for the illegal production of fishmeal. This is happening at a time when the country is grappling with malnutrition affecting children and vulnerable communities in particular.

Aquaculture is the world’s fastest growing food production sector, and the FAO projects it will provide 60% of the world’s fish consumption by 2030, growing significantly from its current share of just over 50%. Paradoxically, the industry is heavily reliant on wild-caught fish with over 69% of fishmeal and 75% of fish oil production used to feed farmed fish. The global fishmeal market was worth approximately US$6 billion (€5.3 billion) in 2017 and is forecast to reach US$10 billion (€8.9 billion) by 2027.

 “When considering the negative consequences of using wild-caught fish for FMFO, we must not overlook the huge impact that these industries have on animal welfare. As industrial aquaculture grows, the number of animals suffering in these intensive farming systems multiplies and brings in another hidden layer,” says Dr Krzysztof Wojtas, Head of Fish Policy at Compassion in World Farming. “Most people are not aware of the additional suffering of hundreds of billions of small fish that die horribly on huge industrial fishing vessels in order to fuel these underwater factory farms. The industry must urgently address this crisis."

 Carina Millstone, Executive Director of Feedback said: “It is clear that the aquaculture industry’s ‘business as usual’ approach to fishmeal and oil  is dangerously depleting oceanresources and threatening the integrity of marine ecosystems.The industry is seeking sustainable protein alternatives, but not fast enough to avert potentially catastrophic consequences for ocean health and food security.”