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Part V: Feed alternatives - Balancing the industry's approach to sustainable feed

The fifth and final part of our series examines the issue of certification in the fishmeal and oil industry, where future sources might come from and what role it should play in the future of aquaculture feed.

It is a frustration of many working in the fishmeal and oil industry that their products are often touted as an "unsustainable" ingredient for aqua feed.

Global stocks of the fish used to produce fishmeal and oil are, overall, stable, and while there are certainly price fluctuations, there is nothing to say that they should be entirely replaced as an ingredient in aquaculture feed.

There is a “common misconception that stocks are declining,” Andrew Mallison, director general of Marine Ingredients Organization IFFO told IntraFish. While there is biological variability, “stocks are well-managed and the management performance is sustainable.”

These stocks are also increasingly being certified to third-party standards.

Exactly how many are certified is hard to answer, but there is a trend towards an increasing number of feed producers being Marine Stewardship Council Chain of Custody certified, for example, Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) European Director Camiel Derichs told IntraFish.

“This shows a sharp upwards trend since 2014 and today we estimate that the volume entering meal and oil production from fisheries that are certified or in full assessment exceeds 2.2 million metric tons,” he said.

This represents around 10 percent of the global raw material used for meal and oil production, up from some 3 percent three years ago.

“Some fisheries may need to make improvements... [but] I don’t think there will be a lack of MSC certified raw material,” said Derichs.

“Some fisheries may need a few years to get to the MSC level, others may take five years or even longer, other fisheries will probably already be able to meet the MSC standards, some of which are in pre or full assessment today…[but] MSC is actively supporting feed producers to find MSC certified raw material.”

As part of this effort, MSC intends to pilot a 'Mass Balance Chain of Custody' standard this Spring, which is especially developed for feed supply chains and aimed at making it easier for feed producers to source certified ingredients.

The NGO is also actively supporting reduction fisheries in developing countries which are committed to improvement and which aim for MSC certification in specified timeframes.

IFFO standard sees increased compliance

IFFO's responsible fisheries program has also seen significant growth, with 44 percent of fishmeal and oil deemed compliant in 2016, an almost doubling of the 25 percent compliant in 2010, when the standard launched.

Most of this product comes from Peruvian and developed world fisheries, and there are challenges in Asia with using conventional methodology, according to IFFO's Francisco Aldon, presenting at IFFO's annual meeting in Bangkok last year.

But improvement projects run by both IFFO RS and the MSC aim to tackle these and at least get fisheries on 'the ladder' to certification and sustainability.

Of course, the challenge generally with fishmeal and oil certification is that the fisheries where the vast majority of the catch is used for meal and oil production (around 65 percent of current supply) are often low trophic level (LTL) species such as krill, or anchoveta.

“These species often play a critical role in their ecosystems  [and] serve as a critical food source for many dependent species, transferring energy from plankton into whales, seabirds, larger predatory fish species,” said Derichs.

Extra careful management is needed for truly key low trophic species in their ecosystems, said Derich. This extra careful management, based on the ecosystem approach, leaving more Key LTL biomass in the sea to cater for ecosystem needs is not in place yet everywhere and that may make certification challenging for such fisheries at this point.   

However, both Aldon and Derichs believe that, on the whole, the supply of certified fishmeal and oil will continue to go up, and availability should continue to improve for feed producers.

“The demand for MSC raw material will deliver the impacts in and on the water which are needed, and sustainable fisheries certification of LTL fisheries can help feed producers to secure reliable long term supply of these important feed ingredients,” Derichs told IntraFish.

The other 35%

So, we’ve talked about the 65 percent that comes direct from fisheries, but it is also important to note that about 35 percent of fishmeal and oil on the market now stems from processing byproduct.

And there is opportunity for more.

Neil Auchterlonie, technical director at IFFO, highlighted a recent study conducted at the Institute of Aquaculture at the University of Stirling in the United Kingdom, which suggested there is increasing availability of raw material from byproducts from the industry itself and confirmed the under-utilization of byproduct from both fisheries and aquaculture.

Europe currently uses proportionally more byproduct for fishmeal and fish oil production than other regions, but Asia -- and China in particular -- shows the most potential for future marine ingredient supply from under-utilized resources in both fisheries and aquaculture.

The model shows that nearly 20 million metric tons of raw material is used annually for the production of fishmeal and fish oil, of which around 14 million metric tons comes from whole fish, Auchterlonie told IntraFish.

Around 3.7 million metric tons of byproduct comes from the processing of wild-caught fish with Europe producing around 1.2 million metric tons of this. An estimated 1.9 million metric tons comes from aquaculture of which 800,000 metric tons is in Asia, principally Vietnam and Thailand.

Of course the diversity in this source is enormous, since trimmings are available from many different species and areas.

In terms of certification, fisheries for Alaska pollock produce sizable amounts of fishmeal and oil based on trimmings, and these have been MSC certified in Alaska for some 10 years now,” said MSC's Derichs.

The same goes for some North Atlantic cod, haddock and saithe fisheries where trimmings and livers are used for the production of fishmeal and oil in Norway and Iceland. These have been MSC certified for 5-7 years.

“Then there are many MSC certified herring fisheries in Norway, Denmark, Scotland, Iceland, some of which produce significant quantities of raw material going into meal and oil production, both from herring trimmings and based on whole fish,” he told IntraFish.

But most importantly, the model shows if all fish were processed and all the byproduct collected it is estimated that globally there would be around 36 million metric tons of raw material available producing about 9.5 million metric tons of fishmeal and 1.5 million metric tons of fish oil. “Overall availability of marine ingredients for fishmeal and fish oil production will increase,” Auchterlonie said.

The big picture

So the stocks supplying meal and oil production are stable and increasingly third party certified as sustainable. There is also more fishmeal and oil to be had if the industry can come together to take advantage of bycatch and processing waste.

However, for the aquaculture industry to grow as expected, it is undeniable that fishmeal and oil should increasingly be used as a strategic ingredient, supplemented by other economical and sustainable alternatives.

Whether these alternatives be soy or other agricultural proteins; krill, flies, algae or a combination, investment must be in place for economies of scale to be achieved -- the aim of the Global Salmon Initiative when it launched a tender for novel oils high in Omega-3 in 2015 and several other high profile 'contests' in recent years.

The farmed salmon industry alone uses approximately 350,000 metric tons of fish oil each year, and this is expected to grow by approximately 5 percent each year, in line with industry growth.

It is also imperative that whatever supplements become the mainstream, the health of the fish and the health-giving properties of the end-product do not suffer.

Aquaculture's whole future is reliant on being a sustainable, healthy, affordable protein, and the role of sustainable, healthy, affordable feed is key to its success.


All this week, IntraFish has been running an exclusive series of articles drilling down on the use of marine ingredients in the aquaculture industry; the problems with the industry's reliance on them, the challenges of removing them and the viable alternatives on the table.

Catch up on the rest of the series:

Part I: Feed alternatives - The trouble with fishmeal

Part II: Feed alternatives - How low should we go with marine ingredients?

Part III: Feed alternatives - Which replacements are really viable?

Part IV: Feed alternatives - The makings of an algae giant

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