International Aquafeed - Neil Auchterlonie's monthly column - March 2019
The following was written by IFFO's Technical Director Neil Auchterlonie for International Aquafeed magazine, published in March 2019.
"In last month’s column I explored the use of Fishery Improvement Projects (FIPs) as a mechanism for improving fishery performance over time. This month, at a more esoteric level, I want to explore the concept of using whole fish as a raw material for marine ingredients, the idea of “feeding fish to fish”. The whole principle is something which seems to attract a disproportionate amount of criticism from some quarters, but there are several very valid reasons why it happens, and why it is an important factor in global food security.
In this time of burgeoning global population, we need to be very clear that humanity requires access to as many resources as possible for the efficient production of protein. Some of those resources may have little if any interest shown to them for direct consumption (i.e. as food), and this is certainly true for a number of different small pelagic fish species that are used in fishmeal and fish oil production. It seems to be this fact that is least understandable to the critics, as their argument revolves around why not just eat these fish, rather than use them as a raw material to make fishmeal and fish oil, which is then incorporated into fish feed. That view betrays a lack of understanding of the market dynamics, and the fact that the food market would have first access to these fish if it was interested, the reason being that the food market will pay more for the raw material, than the fishmeal industry.
The species that are used in fishmeal and fish oil production are not readily accepted into the food market because they are unappetising, and often difficult to process in volume (small pelagic species are usually soft-bodied and deteriorate rapidly). An interesting case in point is the Peruvian anchovy, which tops the volumes of the small pelagic fish species annual tonnages as raw material for fishmeal and fish oil. Successive Peruvian authorities have invested heavily (many USD millions) since the 1960s into providing incentives for the local population to consume the fish, recognising of course the excellent nutritional qualities (those same qualities that make excellent fishmeal and fish oil products). Despite that level of investment over several decades and many projects, the uptake domestically is still extremely low, for the simple reason that people are reluctant to consume the fish directly.
It is worth mentioning that another misconception is that capture of these fish deprives local populations of a food source, but as we see this is not actually the case. Using the fish as raw material for marine ingredient production provides many more tonnes of protein than it uses, and that is protein that people want to eat. We should remember that communities naturally exert choice over the food they eat. Where any fishery may provide stock surplus to direct human consumption needs, it is perfectly acceptable to convert this through use in animal feed, into other more popular types of protein."