Zero fishmeal feeds: IFFO's position paper

In contemporary aquafeeds, the so-called novel ingredients sector is extremely small, yet the seafood (and even mainstream) media is providing a disproportionate amount of coverage to the development of these embryonic industries.

By 2030, global aquaculture production is expected to grow to 109 million tons (FAO, SOFIA 2018), which is up with 21 million tons from 2019. This means that there is an estimated need for aquafeed in the same period close to 38 million tons. With this in mind, we welcome all initiatives for new, responsibly-sourced, safe, nutritious ingredients, that can contribute to provide the feed which is needed by the aquaculture sector.

Since many of these so-called novel ingredients are described as replacements for fishmeal or fish oil, those messages have been taken to their extreme in the concept of fishmeal free, or fish-free, feeds. 

There are various reasons why a fish-free feed concept is based on flawed thinking, and we summarise some of the most important points below:

  • Quality feed means quality food, which is required to feed a growing population in need for proteins:
    • Fishmeal and fish oil are rich in nutrients and provide essential nutrition in aquafeeds in a manner that is most efficiently utilised by farmed fish. 
    • No other single feed ingredient supplies the same nutrition in one complete package.  This is the reason why the materials have been, and remain, the foundation of modern fed aquaculture.
    • Those nutrients are of key importance in supporting farmed fish growth, health and welfare, and reducing or removing them from aquafeeds has implications for these factors.
    • Where fishmeal and fish oil are reduced, feed companies need to manage formulations to ensure that feeds still retain complete nutritional profiles.  This often involves the supplementation of individual micronutrients from a range of other sources, which adds complexity and in turn carries a further range of responsible sourcing and quality implications for those ingredients that are used as partial or complete substitutes.
  • Substitution usually adds costs carrying implications for the economic viability of feed production.
  • With more than half of the world’s fishmeal and fish oil being produced to a responsible sourcing standard (IFFO RS), there is no rationale for their removal from aquafeeds from a fishery management perspective.
  • Every element of how we live and feed ourselves impacts on the natural world. Land and water availability and their management, as well as fishery management, are complex issues which require specific approaches (geographic, species,…).

Continued aquaculture development is dependent on the production of quality aquafeeds using all the available ingredients. To enable this process, the superior nutritional qualities of fishmeal and fish oil are best directed to the points in production systems where their optimal nutritional value may be extracted. The approach, then, is not about removal of fishmeal and fish oil from aquafeeds but in making sure that we use these most effective nutritional products to their best advantage.

October 2019