Industry hits back at accusations of irresponsible practices

Greenberg’s article titled ‘Fool’s gold: what fish oil is doing to our health and the planet’, discusses the Peruvian anchovy fishery, which is the largest reduction fishery in the world. This is a highly productive fishery that along with a variety of other small pelagic fish stocks and byproducts from processing produce the annual quantity of roughly 5 million tonnes of fishmeal and 1 million tonnes of fish oil. Once turned into the highly nutritious fishmeal and fish oil products, these are the foundation of aquafeed and hence a global aquaculture industry. There is a common misconception that the Peruvian government is purposely depriving local communities of a valuable food source and in Greenberg states that Peruvian law dictates that more than 95% of the catch must go to the reduction industry, this is simply not correct and in fact the government has been doing the exact opposite. The Peruvian Government actually restricts the fishing of anchovy for fishmeal and fish oil with the setting and enforcement of quotas and closed fishing seasons - standard elements of sound fishery management. The fishing of anchovy for direct human consumption in the inshore artisanal fishery is in a restricted open-access model, regulated by permits and a tax for accessing a natural resource. There is no bias towards the fishing of anchoveta for fishmeal and fish oil production, quite the contrary. The Peruvian government has invested many millions of dollars to promote direct consumption but with little success so far. People just don’t eat enough! The same is true of many of the other species used around the world for fishmeal and fish oil production, and by their use in this way they support the production of protein that is valued for its contribution to global food security. 

To communicate clearly the reasons for the low direct human consumption of anchovy, we published a factsheet with Peru’s National Fisheries Society (SNP). Peru has a long history of trying to encourage the direct human consumption of anchovy, including a decidedly unpopular programme of forcing the army to commit a minimum of 6% of their food budget on anchovy. The lack of appetite is largely a function of this fish’s strong flavour, which results in them being eaten only in small quantities. Peru has plenty of other more popular species available which are affordable, more palatable and versatile from a culinary point of view and are therefore more valued in Peru’s world-class cuisine. Despite this, the government continues to invest in schemes to encourage direct human consumption, with the launch of a US$ 120 million innovation project in the country’s fishing and aquaculture industry, and a key area of focus will finance initiatives related to increasing direct human consumption of anchovy.

In fact, the nutritional benefits of fishmeal and fish oil to farmed fish extend far beyond the mere contributions of crude protein and energy found in these materials (good though they are). Contrary to popular belief these materials are not directly replaceable by other protein and fat sources because they contain an array of micronutrients not found in other individual feed ingredients. Although the presence of omega-3 fatty acids is obvious, there are many other essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals found in rich quantities in fishmeal, all of which are important for farmed animal and human health. This is the reason why, when used strategically and combined with other ingredients, these materials can produce many more times the volume of more widely accepted and consumed fish in a more efficient way. For omega-3s themselves, I could debate the science but Greenberg’s view seems to ignore published articles that present a positive impact of omega-3 consumption, but suffice to say that the benefits that have been observed in humans are equally observed in farmed animal species, therefore enhancing production efficiencies and sustainability of the sector. 

We would also like to respond to Greenberg’s comments on Antarctic krill. Krill is an important raw material for marine ingredient production, both protein and oil. In comparison to other raw material sources, krill has only been utilised very recently, and the tonnages harvested are well within the limits advised by science and expert opinion, managed by a committee of international representatives. As an example of fishery management it has much to commend, and is far from the ecologically damaging sector that has been portrayed in the media.

The krill biomass is enormous, estimated by CCAMLR to be in excess of the weight of all human beings on the planet, at approximately 379 million tonnes. In practice the fishery is focused in a geographical region located in the south-west Atlantic (Areas 48 & 58 – the greatest volume coming from Sub-areas 48.1, 48.2 & 48.3 recently), which is estimated to contain approximately 60 million tonnes of krill. The krill fishery is not the only fishery in the region, but it is perhaps the most contentious due to the importance of the species for marine ecosystem function.

Standing stock assessments for krill biomass are based on acoustic survey methodology. Catch limits are set on the basis of a sustainable yield that can be taken as a constant catch. Although the catch limit is set at 5.61 million tonnes, CCAMLR recognises the geographically focused nature of the fishery and applies a trigger-level of 620,000 tonnes to the regions where the fishing operations take place. That trigger level is managed on a proportional area basis for those Sub-areas, but at no time in the history of the krill fishery has the trigger-level been reached.  

External expert opinion on the performance of the krill fishery confirms its strong environmental credentials. An element of the krill fishery (Aker Biomarine Antarctic krill) has been certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) since June 2010. Additionally, a recent Sustainable Fisheries Partnership report (2017) categorises the fishery as a “Category A” which carries a descriptor of “stocks in very good condition”. Peer-reviewed science (Hill et al., 2016) indicates that fishing consistently at the trigger level would be equivalent to a <7% exploitation rate (for the regional biomass), well below the level that is considered to maintain the krill stock and support predator populations (9.3%), but as mentioned above, that trigger-level has never been reached.

As you can see the reality of the situation is far more complex than it appears, and the fishmeal and fish oil industry is very far from the pariah that it is made out to be by those who do not have a technical understanding of the way it operates. It has for many years been the foundation of global food supply, and it shall remain so for many years to come. 

Best regards,

Dr Neil Auchterlonie

IFFO Technical Director

Friday, July 27, 2018