Demand for farmed fish causing wild fish stocks to collapse

Farmed fish

Shoppers buying farmed fish such as prawns and Scottish salmon labelled as sustainable in UK supermarkets may unwittingly be contributing to the collapse of fish stocks in Asia and Africa, a report has found.

Farmed fish are frequently certified as sustainable despite being fed with unsustainable food, which is made from wild fish, according to Dutch NGO Changing Markets. This food, known as fishmeal and fish oil (FMFO), is often produced using destructive and sometimes illegal practices that “strip the ocean bare” and damage marine ecosystems, the report stated.

The investigation found that Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Aldi, Lidl, Co-op, Tesco, Asda, Iceland, Morrison’s, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer all source fish from companies that use unsustainable FMFO as feed in their farms.

Almost one fifth of the world’s annual wild fish catch is now taken out of the ocean to be ground down for FMFO to feed livestock or farmed fish.

In India and Vietnam – two key countries for supplying this growing demand – collapsing fish stocks are pushing fishing vessels to “systematically plunder” the oceans for species that have not previously been caught for FMFO, Changing Markets found.

Vessels are also catching juvenile fish which should be left in their natural environment to reach maturity and ensure a stable fish population. 

In some cases, the researchers found FMFO had been exported with falsified food safety certificates.

“Sustainable salmon”

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who is supporting a campaign to improve standards in the industry, said FMFO was being sourced in ways that are devastating to the marine environment.

“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”, he said.

Scottish Salmon producers hit back at the criticism. A spokesperson for Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO) pointed out that: “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.”

Changing Markets found that damaging fishing practices are being allowed to go unpunished partly because of a glaring conflict of interest in the fishmeal industry.

The trade body which represents the interests of FMFO suppliers and lobbies governments on their behalf is also tasked with certifying that those producers meet environmental standards. Despite this, major British retailers accept assurances from the body. 

More and more farmed fish

FMFO is becoming increasingly important as people eat more and more farmed fish. The report estimates that that farmed species will account for 62 per cent of the seafood the world consumes by 2030.

Natasha Hurley from Changing Markets, said: “Shoppers across the UK are totally unaware that the seafood they are buying has a dark secret. 

“The boom in aquaculture, to match the global demand for premium seafood products such as salmon, is fuelling illegal and unsustainable fishing practices which are stripping the oceans bare.

“Climate change is already destabilising our food system and that’s being exacerbated by the FMFO industry, which will take anything and everything out of the ocean to meet demand from the growing aquaculture industry. 

Leah Riley Brown, sustainability policy advisor at the British Retail Consortium, said fishmeal and fish oil were essential raw materials for creating good quality farmed seafood. 

“The use of wild-caught raw material as marine ingredients in fishmeal is becoming progressively more efficient as novel ingredients are gaining more traction as sustainable additions to the feed basket, which is alleviating pressures on wild fish stocks.”

“This has been supported through utilising greater amounts of fishery and aquaculture processing by-product and increasing amounts of plant-based ingredients. Moreover, most remaining wild-caught fish used in fishmeal and oil would not typically be fished in significant quantities for human consumption and are sustainably and responsibly fished.”

A Waitrose & Partners spokesperson said that all of the company’s fish feed was sourced from responsibly managed fisheries and met standards set by the IFFO.

This article was originally published as UK supermarkets selling “sustainable” Scottish salmon linked to collapse of wild fish stocks at The Independent on 15/10/2019.

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