October 21, 2019
Sales of 'sustainable' farmed fish help drive collapse of fish stocks, Dutch NGO claims
A report by a Dutch NGO has found that farmed fish that are labelled as sustainable in UK supermarkets may through their sales help drive the collapse of fish stocks in Asia and Africa.
These fish are actually fed with unsustainable food despite their labelling, the report by Changing Markets pointed out. The food, namely fishmeal and fish oil (FMFO), is created through destructive and occasionally unlawful methods which impact marine ecosystems.
Tesco, Sainsbury's, Aldi, Lidl, Co-op, Tesco, Asda, Iceland, Morrison's, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer are the companies implicated in the report for getting fish from companies using unsustainable FMFO as feed for fish.
Today, close to one fifth of global annual wild fish catch is extracted from the ocean to be used for making FMFO for farmed fish.
In India and Vietnam - two key countries for supplying this growing demand - collapsing fish stocks are causing fishing vessels to extract irresponsibly from the oceans for species that have not previously been caught for FMFO, Changing Markets found.
Vessels are also catching juvenile fish which should be left in their natural environment to reach maturity and ensure a stable fish population.
It was also discovered that the exports of FMFO have been conducted with doctored food safety certificates in some cases.
"It's increasingly clear that even products certified as sustainably produced are based on aquaculture that is sourcing fishmeal in deeply irresponsible ways. The bottom line is that we need to stop taking wild fish out of the ocean to feed farmed fish, before it's too late," said Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who is supporting a campaign to improve standards in the industry.
However, Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO) rejected the criticism, with its spokesman saying that "Companies providing feed for Scottish farm-raised salmon have confirmed that none of them uses ingredients from the Gambia, Vietnam or India or from reef fishing.
The spokesman added: "Any claim or suggestion that Scottish feed suppliers are sourcing from these fisheries would be wrong, misleading and inaccurate."
According to Changing Markets, damaging fishing practices are given a pass partially due to a conflict of interest in the fishmeal sector.
The trade body which represents the interests of FMFO suppliers and lobbies governments on their behalf is also tasked with certifying that those producers fulfill environmental standards. Despite this, major British retailers accept assurances from the body.
"The boom in aquaculture, to match the global demand for premium seafood products such as salmon, is fuelling illegal and unsustainable fishing practices which are stripping the oceans bare," said Natasha Hurley from Changing Markets.
"Climate change is already destabilising our food system and that's being exacerbated by the FMFO industry, which will take anything and everything out of the ocean to meet demand from the growing aquaculture industry."
Leah Riley Brown, sustainability policy advisor at the British Retail Consortium, argued that fishmeal and fish oil were essential raw materials for creating good quality farmed seafood.
"The use of wild-caught raw material as marine ingredients in fishmeal is becoming progressively more efficient as novel ingredients are gaining more traction as sustainable additions to the feed basket, which is alleviating pressures on wild fish stocks," Brown said.
"This has been supported through utilising greater amounts of fishery and aquaculture processing by-product and increasing amounts of plant-based ingredients. Moreover, most remaining wild-caught fish used in fishmeal and oil would not typically be fished in significant quantities for human consumption and are sustainably and responsibly fished."
A Waitrose & Partners spokesperson said that all of the company's fish feed was sourced from responsibly managed fisheries and met standards set by the IFFO.