The following letter was sent to IntraFish by Kevin Fitzsimmons, director of International Initiatives and professor at the University of Arizona, in response to a recent article on the use of fishmeal and fish oil in aquaculture. Fitzsimmons is also the leader of the F3 alternative feed challenge.

I was quite amused by a question posed by Enrico Bachis, market research director at IFFO, who asked: “Why are people still talking about replacing fishmeal and fish oil in aquaculture?”

The answer is incredibly simple, for the exact same reason that people do not go out into nature to hunt and gather the soy, corn, rice, casava, wheat, poultry meal, blood meal or any of the other ingredients in aquafeeds.

For the last 7,000 years, humans have developed agriculture so that we could more efficiently feed our animals and ourselves.

Hunting and gathering fish from the ocean is the last significant hunting and gathering industry left on the planet. And it is rapidly being overtaken by aquaculture.

IFFO itself likes to point out the “growth sector” of seafood processing supplying meal and oil, much of it from farmed seafood.

Farmed algae, microbes, yeast and insects are increasing commercial quantities in the market and gathering more market share on a daily basis, while the fishmeal and oil suppliers tread water.

IFFO has worked very hard at improving the sustainability record of their corporate members. They honestly deserve credit for what they have achieved.

But much of the industry does not subscribe to their goals and continue to overfish stocks, especially in the developing world.

Fishing down the food web is common, forced labor is still a problem in many parts of Asia, and price increases and volatility are frequent complaints.

Much of the fishmeal in regional markets is poor quality, sometimes contaminated with various pollutants.

There are certain countries that deliberately target the most needy developing nations, inducing corrupt officials and desperate artisanal fishers to overfish the available resources and take every juvenile fish they can find, destroying their own future.

There is no doubt that some have taken these stories and tried to paint the entire industry with the same brush, which is not fair.

IFFO certainly does not condone any of these practices and holds its members to high standards. But they must admit that much of the industry has an abysmal record.

So again the question: “Why are people still talking about replacing fishmeal and fish oil in aquaculture?”

The even more basic answer in economic terms is because your supply is decreasing, the demand is rising, your prices are rising while the alternatives are becoming more common and their prices are decreasing.

In the relatively short run, I agree with IFFO folks that wild-caught fishmeal and fish oil will continue their shrinking share of diet formulations and be considered more and more as a specialty ingredient to improve palatability and maybe provide some micronutrients.

But the bulk of nutrition will come from lower cost and more sustainable ingredients, and in the long run, even as a specialty ingredient it will fade away. So, no, it will not play even a small role.

I can not think of any ingredient in terrestrial animal feeds that is gathered from the wild. Maybe some minerals used in pre-mix. But not any organic compounds.

Seafood processing wastes will take more and more share of the fishmeal supply, just as in terrestrial feeds that use rendered products from farmed animals, but virtually nothing from hunted wild animals.

Commercial fishing is on the decline globally and will give way to sport fishing and conservation just as virtually all commercial hunting and gathering on land has.

Governments already recognize that subsidizing commercial fishing, versus selling fishing licenses for the same fish is a no brainer.

My two grandfathers, one manufactured trunks to strap on the back of automobiles, and the other delivered milk door to door. Both professions died out over just a few years.

The future is coming fast and trying to deny it or belittle the oncoming competition might feel good and keep the checks flowing awhile longer, but the clock is ticking.


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