FCR and FIFO are out, FFDR and LCA are in – aquaculture’s new sustainability metrics taking hold
The aquaculture industry – and the non-governmental organizations that scrutinize it – rely on complex tools to calculate the impact, effectiveness, and value of marine ingredients to the aquaculture industry.
IFFO, the international trade body that represents the marine ingredients industry, recently completed a review of the primary metrics used to analyze the sector, using the latest available data, reviewed the industry’s performance over the last 20 years.
The four metrics commonly used in the analysis of aquafeed performance are the feed-conversion ratio (FCR), fish-in:fish-out ratio (FIFO), forage-fish dependency ratio (FFDR), and the lifecycle assessment analysis (LCA). For years, FCR and FIFO have been the preferred tools for analyzing the industry, but lately, FFDR and LCA have gained in favor. IFFO found an improving trend across all four metrics between 2000 and 2020 due to improved technologies, nutritional knowledge, and feed-management strategies. Feed is now more precisely tailored to meet individual species’ needs, and nutrients are delivered more efficiently, according to IFFO.
FCR, the conventional measure of livestock production efficiency, is simply the weight of feed intake divided by the weight gained by an animal or fish. It is also expressed as eFCR, (economic) which accounts for feed wastage and mortalities, and bFCR (biological), which removes non-consumed feed and production losses from the calculation.
IFFO’s analysis showed that overall, total global fed aquaculture had an eFCR of 0.732:1 in 2020, down from 0.81:1 in 2000, with salmon weighing in at 1.3:1, compared with chicken at 2:1 and pigs at 3:1.
FIFO is a standardized measure of marine ingredients used during fish production, with a focus on the amount of wild-caught fish used as feed to produce a farmed fish. The complex calculation does not take into account the value and quality of ingredients, nor does it distinguish between byproducts and reduction fishery sources.
Using FIFO, the overall fed aquaculture figure in 2020 decreased to 0.19:1, which means that for every kilo of wild-caught fish used in feed, five kilograms of farmed fish was produced. It is notable that the calculation for salmonids is now below 1:1, which supports the feed industry’s claim of greatly improved efficiency.
The economic fish-in:fish-out (eFIFO) ratio applies an economic weighting to the values of fishmeal and fish oil used in feed, and allows the economic contribution of byproducts relative to the economic contribution of direct human consumption to be recognized. Over one-third of marine ingredients are now made up of byproducts from fish processing.
FFDR quantifies the environmental impact of aquaculture feed and is calculated using eFCR plus the inclusion level of forage fish marine ingredients in the feed, (not byproducts), and their yield ratio. IFFO’s FFDR data from 2020 shows that just 0.13 kilograms of forage fish is used for each kilogram of fed aquaculture production and that major improvements were seen in salmonids and crustaceans, which achieved fourfold reductions over the past 20 years. This takes into account IFFO’s position that the formula incorrectly assumes that wild-caught species used in feed would have a higher value to society if they were sold for direct human consumption, and that assumptions about the environmental impact of forage fish exploitation are often not valid.
LCA is a far more complex calculation, which takes into account environmental impacts including global warming potential, cumulative energy use, abiotic resource use, ozone depletion potential, consumptive water use, and land use. It also covers feed ingredients and their processing, farm production and processing, distribution, consumption, and waste disposal. The aim is to provide a comprehensive assessment of the full global impact of food production. Currently, the industry and NGO sector use this measure primarily to calculate aquaculture’s contribution to global warming, measuring greenhouse gas emissions related to aquaculture production from the farmed seafood, tracing it back all the way to the origin of the raw materials in the feed.
Analysis of the latest LCA data shows the environmental footprint of fishmeal and fish oil is mainly influenced by fuel use during fishing operations, and that most forage fisheries have a low fuel consumption per ton of capture.
“The industry is moving from single metrics to a more holistic and comprehensive measurement based on lifecycle assessment analyses, which aim to give better resource accountability across the value chain and greater cross-sector harmonization of metrics,” IFFO Technical Director Brett Glencross told SeafoodSource.
Cargill SeaFurther Sustainability Program Lead Dave Robb said following the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 26) in Scotland in 2021, which centered its agenda on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, there had been a push from the aquaculture supply chain to drive change in the sector.
“Aquaculture is generally a relatively low emitter of greenhouse gases, but we can improve. This means tackling overfishing, biodiversity reduction and deforestation, as well as decarbonization. The reduction fisheries are interesting, as they tend to have a low carbon footprint – particularly if they are well-managed. Sustainable fishery management and practices are embedded within our goals, and we work with the Marine Stewardship Council, MarinTrust, and several fisheries improvement projects to achieve this,” Robb told SeafoodSource.
Cargill works in parallel to undertake LCA analysis of all its raw materials and supply chains, and communicates the outcome to its fish-farming customers. Each custome is then in turn able to calculate its own carbon footprint and to manage it in line with its own brand and business values and consumer expectations.
“Through our SeaFurther sustainability program, which is currently being piloted with fish farms in Norway, Scotland, Ireland, and Chile, we are helping salmon farmers to reduce their environmental footprint by 30 percent by 2030,” he said. “This is good news for consumers and good news for the planet.”
Photo courtesy of Exalmar