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, total world aquatic fish production (capture fisheries and aquaculture, excluding aquatic plants) is expected to reach 201 million tonnes. Global aquaculture production is expected to grow to 109 million tons (FAO, SOFIA 2018), forming the majority of the increase in volume and a growth of more than 37% on 2016 figures for aquaculture, but this figure includes both fed and unfed aquaculture species.  The rate of growth of fed aquaculture species has outpaced that for unfed aquaculture species between 2000 and 2016 and the FAO estimated that approximately a contribution of 30.5% of the total in 2016 was from unfed fish, with that proportion showing a continuing decreasing trend. That suggests that there is at least a volume of 75-76 million tonnes of fed species to be produced globally in 2030, and very likely more if rates of change are maintained, growing from approximately 55 million tonnes of fed aquaculture production currently. That is an additional 20 million tonnes of fed farmed fish to be produced in a decade.

What this means, in reality, is that there is a continual increasing demand for increased volume of supply of ingredients for aquafeed production over the period to 2030, of a total close to 30 million tons (assuming a conservative Feed Conversion Ratio of 1.5).  With this in mind, IFFO welcomes all initiatives for new, responsibly-sourced, safe, nutritious ingredients, that can contribute to aquafeed volumes, providing the feed which is essential to maintain the continued growth of 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