GAA IFFO-backed study finds promise in South East Asia fishmeal

The following was published in Intrafish

Knowledge gained from new study in Southeast Asia may later be used to help feed industries in other regions around the world.

The fishmeal industry has a vital role to play in helping fisheries industries in Southeast Asia transition towards responsible use of raw materials.

That’s one of the main conclusions of a study entitled "Driving Change in South East Asian Fisheries" commissioned by the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA) and Marine Ingredients Organisaton (IFFO).

The study, authored by Duncan Leadbitter of the fisheries and natural resources consulting company Fish Matter, is the first of its kind to examine the Southeast Asian fishmeal industry in such great detail.

The report focused on Vietnam and Thailand because of the importance of the fishmeal and aquaculture industries to the country.

The fishmeal industry is generally more familiar with coldwater systems such as the North Atlantic Ocean and Peru than warmer tropical waters of Southeast Asia.

Tropical ecosystems have a greater number of species, although individual species may not be particularly abundant. These have proved difficult to manage for sustainability techniques developed for single species fisheries in cooler waters have generally failed.

Renewed interest

There is renewed interest from scientists, governments and the fishing industry and dependent industries such as processing in finding ways of managing Southeast Asian fisheries.

While levels of efficiency among the fisheries are high, with discards and wastage very low, few fisheries focus mainly on fishmeal. Generally fish that has no market for human consumption is used by fishmeal processors in Southeast Asia.

Small pelagics such as mackerel, anchovies and sardines are consumed by humans, in stark contrast to Europe, North and South America, where these fish types are a major fishmeal ingredient.

Trawlers and purse seine vessels account for about 80 percent of catches. The proportion of catches going to fishmeal processing has fallen sharply since the 1980s, from 1.5 million metric tons to 300,000 metric tons, in part because of overfishing.

The arrival of the surimi industry in the 1980s, but more recently developments in human food products containing seafood, have also contributed to this trend.

One of the consequences of excessive fishing pressure has been the major decline in larger fish and slower growing species and the favoring of smaller, faster growing species.

Thailand's transition

For the past 20 years, about a quarter of raw materials have gone into fishmeal in Thailand.

In the early years of fishmeal production, both quality and worker health suffered.

Tariff barriers protected local fishmeal producers from higher quality overseas competitors, leading to poor quality shrimp feeds.

“There is not much you can really do in the plant if the quality of the raw material coming off the boat is really poor,” Leadbitter said.

Thailand, however, has since grown to lead initiatives to bring plants up to international standards, the report noted.

After decades of overfishing, in the last five years Thailand has made a concerted effort to rebuild stocks by cutting the number of boats allowed to fish to 1960s levels, increasing the number of seasonal spawning closures and minimum net mesh sizes.

Targets for rebuilding stocks have been set for the Gulf of Thailand and the country’s west coast as well.

Growing realization

Along with investments in vessel tracking systems and far more rigorous enforcement, these developments are expected to start showing signs of improvement in fish stocks before too long. Thailand has already some level of recovery where action has been taken.

“We know from experience in other countries that collaboration between government, industry and other stakeholders such as the supply chain and NGOs can generate not only a shared understanding of the issues but shared ownership of the solutions,” Leadbitter told journalists during a webinar to launch the study.

“There has been a growing realization that overfishing is not someone else’s problem, it’s a problem for the supply chain just as much as it is for the fishermen.”

Southeast Asia has a long history of farmers using small fish in a mix to feed animals and farmed fish.

In recent years, as demand for farmed seafood has increased around the globe, there has been a shift away from using unprocessed raw material, towards fishmeal, which offers greater security in terms of food safety and consistent nutrition.

Fishmeal made from tropical fisheries differs from counterparts in, for example, Peru, in terms of protein content, variability in supply, and use of trimmings and by-products.

Driving goals

“We are going to need a lot of feed," said Melanie Siggs, GAA’s director of strategic engagement, explaining that her organization’s involvement in the project stems from the need to better understand fisheries if the industry is going to meet the FAO’s forecast requirement for aquaculture of around another 44 million metric tons of fish by 2030.

Understanding where this feed will come from is a key question for the aquaculture industry, and while new and novel ingredients will play a part in this, fishmeal and fish oil and remain an integral part of the feed industry.

One key goal has to be changing the mindset of the potential value of what's thought of as "trash" fish, Siggs said.

By discovering how Western markets can be incentivized to support fishermen’s livelihoods and healthy fisheries, GAA wants to understand how it can contribute through its Best Aquaculture Practice (BAP) certification programs by sharing knowledge, research and education.

Sigg said she sees opportunities to take knowledge and experience gained from work on the Southeast Asian study to other areas of the world to work with markets, governments and local industries on fisheries improvements that will help feed inputs.

“A vision might be as we have a greater requirement for certified feed that we have some mechanism by which when fisheries come into recognized improvement processes and practices they may be registered in some way in this collaboration and we can support them through that process,” she said.


Monday, April 29, 2019