[OANNES Foro] Catching fish to feed fish: Report details 'unsustainable' fishmeal and oil industry

Mario Cabrejos casal en infotex.com.pe
Mar Dic 10 08:34:44 PST 2019

Catching fish to feed fish: Report details 'unsustainable' fishmeal and oil
by Monica Evans 
4 December 2019 

Every year, billions of fish - almost one-fifth of the world's annual wild
catch - are dried, pressed and ground into oil and meal. The majority of
this material is then fed to other fish and crustaceans: in 2016, 69 percent
of fishmeal and 75 percent of fish oil were used for seafood farming.

A report released in October by the Netherlands-based Changing Markets
Foundation (CM) followed fishmeal and fish oil (FMFO) supply chains "from
fishery to fork." It connected a number of farmed-fish products sold in
European supermarkets - often bearing sustainability certifications - to
fishing practices the authors deemed "highly unsustainable" in India,
Vietnam and the Gambia. Supermarkets selling the products include big names
such as Sainsbury's, ALDI, Tesco, Iceland, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, REWE
and Mercadona.

Proponents of aquaculture often frame it as both a solution to unsustainable
fishing and a rapidly scalable way to feed the world. And the industry is
growing: by 2030, it's estimated that 62 percent of the world's seafood will
be farmed rather than wild-caught. But cheery images of locally farmed
salmon swimming in fjords belie a grimmer reality: according to mounting
research, aquaculture that relies on "reduction fisheries," as fisheries
dedicated to FMFO production are known, can actually be far more damaging to
the marine environment than conventional fishing.

It's also much less efficient than eating wild fish themselves: the CM
researchers found that it can take as much as 5 kilograms (11 pounds) of
wild fish to make 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of meal, which would then yield a
maximum of around 0.8 kilograms (1.76 pounds) of farmed salmon or shrimp -
less than one-sixth the original mass of wild fish.

It also means many subsistence and artisanal fishers miss out on much-needed
catches. For example, in the Gambia, where people rely on fish as a staple
food, one FMFO plant took in around 40 percent of the country's total
reported fish catch in 2016, according to the CM report.

Sustainable certifications

This is not the first time researchers and activists have drawn attention to
unsustainable aquaculture practices, and many producers who use fishmeal now
label their products as certified sustainable. But CM's investigators say
the major certification schemes don't stand up to scrutiny.

The most common scheme is the Responsible Supply standard, known as IFFO-RS,
which certifies more than half the world's production of FMFO and claims to
be independent from the industry. CM campaign manager Natasha Hurley said
that's "somewhat disingenuous," given that IFFO-RS was created by the
London-based FMFO industry trade body The Marine Ingredients Organisation
(which goes by the acronym IFFO) and that its governing board and technical
advisory committee include IFFO staff and members, including IFFO's own
technical director. IFFO's communications manager Veronique Jamin told
Mongabay in an email that IFFO-RS is now in the process of rebranding to
"avoid any confusion" between the two entities.

In the report, the investigators called IFFO-RS a marketing tool and
"sustainability smokescreen" that discourages consumers from probing the
origins and impacts of FMFO. In their investigation, which focused on FMFO
production in India, Vietnam and the Gambia, they found a number of FMFO and
aquafeed plants with IFFO-RS certification that they say were clearly linked
to highly unsustainable fishing practices. For example, the investigators
showed that the Chilean feed producer Trio S.A., which is IFFO-RS certified,
sourced from plants in India and the Gambia that engage in practices such as
polluting the air and water and purchasing from fisheries that trawl
indiscriminately (including for juvenile fish) and violate fishing bans.

Alfonso Daniels, the report's principal investigator in the Gambia, told
Mongabay he saw many of these practices first-hand. He described a lagoon
polluted with effluent from a fishmeal plant: "it turns the water red,
killing everything that's there." He also observed a great deal of wasted
fish, dumped by fishermen when the fishmeal plants were working at capacity
- a common occurrence, locals said.

"There were, literally as far as you can see, dead fish on the beach" he
said. "The scale of this waste, of these pelagic fish which are so key for
the food security.when you have such a large percentage of children who are
malnourished [here] - it was just shocking."
Daniels said that IFFO-RS's lack of accessible public information about its
certified companies was a major concern. "I asked them: 'these companies
that you say are certified, where are they sourcing their fishmeal?' And
they said 'that's private information, it's confidential.' What kind of
transparency is that?"

Jamin told Mongabay in an email that "traceability and product integrity are
ones of IFFO RS standard's key pillars. Good traceability practices allow to
know the full trace of the product throughout the value chain." However,
IFFO has not yet responded to questions about the provenance of particular
plants' fish.

IFFO has opposed the report's findings, arguing in a public statement that
"the majority of wild-caught fish is responsibly sourced." The statement
also acknowledged that "there may still be challenges in the responsible
sourcing of material for fishmeal and fish oil products" in some countries
and said that the industry is supporting them to confront these challenges.
It said that one-third of world fishmeal production comes from leftovers and
byproducts of seafood processing. Much of the rest, it said, is produced by
catching small species that aren't in demand for human consumption. "It is a
good way to use material that would otherwise not be consumed," the
statement reads.

Interestingly, Hurley said, some fishmeal companies have been "more
forthcoming and more open to change" than aquaculturists, retailers or
certifiers. She cited the example of Norwegian aquafeed producer Skretting,
which announced the week after the report was released that it had allocated
$2 million toward the development of alternative aquaculture feed
ingredients in 2020. "I think they see that the writing's on the wall,"
Hurley said.

State of the world's fish stocks

That points to a bigger and more existential question for the industry,
according to Hurley, who asked, "can we even have a sustainability standard
for wild-caught fish used as fishmeal, given the state of the world's fish
stocks?" Citing 2015 data from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization
(FAO), CM's report claims that 93 percent of the world's fish stocks are
"fished to their limits or overfished." However, IFFO insisted in a response
to earlier research by CM that the majority of their material is sourced
"responsibly" and is a "renewable, natural resource."

Who's right? According to Tim Cashion, a Ph.D. candidate studying reduction
fisheries at the University of British Columbia, that depends on how you
look at it. "They're both citing the same [FAO data] - the difference is in
the interpretation," he said. "And this is something that people like to
characterize in different ways, depending on their position."

According to the data, approximately 60 percent of fish stocks were
"maximally sustainably fished" in 2015 and 33 percent were "overfished,"
while 7 percent were "underfished." So whether or not it's wise to fish the
majority of stocks right up to their sustainable limits, "it's pretty clear
that the room for growth - for getting more fish out of the sea from capture
fisheries - is very limited right now," Cashion said.

That has implications from a food security and equity perspective, said
fisheries expert Daniel Pauly, principal investigator at the Sea Around Us
project at the University of British Columbia, who has researched the FMFO
industry extensively. "If we are grinding up fish that people could be
eating, to sell as feed for fish to wealthier people, that will never be
sustainable," Pauly said. So while buying certified salmon might feel good,
he said, it's "really just virtue-signaling."

Alternatives to fishmeal

Making meal out of different feedstocks is one possibility, although it
carries its own concerns, Hurley said. For example, soy is a commonly used
alternative feed source, but there are sustainability issues with soybean
cultivation. "The issue is complex, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't speak
out about one part of it," Hurley said.

Another option is for the aquaculture industry to switch to farming
non-carnivorous species. Mussels, for instance, don't require feeding and
provide valuable ecosystem services like water filtration. "The big argument
for aquaculture is that it produces high-quality animal proteins in a lot of
cases," Cashion said, "but I think we can do that in lower impact ways than
high-food-chain carnivorous fish."

IFFO has argued that this doesn't make economic sense. In response to a
previous CM report, a statement from the group said that "the industry is
only effective when it produces a product for which there is an actual
market for the fish that people want to eat."

Pauly said that the market has been proven to be a poor judge of what the
world wants and needs. "People want affordable food and affordable housing,
and the market hasn't provided any of that," he said. "So the market is
failing us."

In the Gambia, Daniels said he watched people carry crate after crate full
of mostly bonga fish (Ethmalosa fimbriata) from fishermen's pirogue boats
across the beach to the fishmeal plants. The effect was to push up the
prices of bonga, a local staple, in the markets. "It just shows this total
lack of accountability, and a complete lack of regard for the lives of local
people and their food safety and future," he said.

Monica Evans is a freelance writer based in Aotearoa New Zealand who
specializes in environmental and community development issues. She has a
master's degree in development studies from Victoria University of
Wellington. Find her at monicaevans.org. 

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