European seafood sector fights back against claims of IUU-tainted fishmeal

NGOs and retailers are seeking to distance themselves this week from a new report prepared by the Dutch-based Changing Markets Foundation, which claims to have found links between them and unsustainable fishing operations in Africa and Asian countries that supply feed ingredients for aquaculture.

Changing Markets undertook a comprehensive mapping exercise of fishmeal and fish oil supply chains from sea to plate, which is set out in the report “Fishing for Catastrophe.”

Their research, undertaken between May and July 2019, suggests that supplies from illegal fishing operations in India, Vietnam, and the Gambia are finding their way into feed used in farmed seafood bought by European consumers.

U.K. retailers including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer, LIDL, ALDI, Asda, Iceland, Morrison’s, Waitrose and the Co-Op were all mentioned in the report. They are accused of selling farmed salmon and prawns that cause fish stocks to collapse and remove a key source of protein from some of the world’s poorest communities, as a result of the aquaculture industry’s reliance on fishmeal and fish oil.

Going one stage further, Changing Markets suggested that aquafeed companies, aquaculture producers, seafood processors, and major retailers are complicit by association. In particular, it suggested that the certification standard for the fishmeal and fish oil industry, run by IFFO RS, was a “sustainability smokescreen,” and incorrectly tied it to IFFO, the Marine Ingredients Association, which is the sector trade body.

“IFFO is wholly unfit to serve as a certification body because it was set up to defend the interests of the industry it is meant to oversee. This is a clear conflict of interest,” Natasha Hurley of Changing Markets said.

Her words were countered by IFFO RS Executive Chair Libby Woodhatch.

“We were disappointed that those producing the report did not speak directly to us, as we could have clarified that IFFO RS Ltd is a totally separate company from IFFO, and membership of IFFO is not akin to gaining third-party independent certification of the IFFO RS standard. This mistake was pointed out to them following the report they published in April, but was not updated in this new publication,” she told SeafoodSource.

Woodhatch explained that the IFFO RS standard was developed by a multi-stakeholder group of the entire value chain and NGOs, including WWF and the Marine Conservation Society, who worked together to develop a third-party certification scheme for fishmeal and fish oil producers. It ensures independent certification of the scheme via third-party inspection and accreditation to internationally recognized standards, such as ISO 17065, and is further endorsed through IFFO RS’s membership in ISEAL, the global membership association for credible sustainability standards.

The unit of assessment is the fishmeal factory, although the certification body also undertakes a comprehensive assessment of the fisheries supplying them against the FAO Code for Responsible Fisheries.

“The marine ingredients sector is driving improvements in many fisheries globally and the development of the IFFO RS Improver Program will help tackle those fisheries where management is poor. This will increase the volume of fish being landed for direct human consumption, and subsequently increase the volume of by-products available for fish meal, improving both the health of the stock and minimizing waste,” Woodhatch said.

However, Hurley believes that shoppers across the U.K. are unaware that the seafood they buy has a “dark secret.”

“The boom in aquaculture, to match the global demand for premium seafood products such as salmon, is fueling illegal and unsustainable fishing practices which are stripping the oceans bare,” she said.

Scottish salmon producers hit back at the criticism, saying that any suggestion that Scottish feed suppliers are sourcing from these fisheries are inaccurate and misleading.

“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, which is the main thrust of the criticism highlighted in the report," a spokesperson for the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO) said in a statement.

The report has gained support from the U.K. television chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who is a veteran of seafood campaigns, including the On the Hook movement, which since 2017 has fought against Marine Stewardship Council certification of the tuna fishery in waters controlled by the Parties to the Nauru Agreement.

“I saw for myself while making my Fish Fight programs that fishmeal for the aquaculture industry is being sourced in a way that is devastating to the marine environment, and to the wild fish stocks that make up much of the feed," he said. “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.”

The Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), one of the bodies which sets standards for salmon, told SeafoodSource in a statement that the potential impacts of the feed used in aquaculture are well-known, and that ASC standards include requirements to minimize the impact of the sourcing and use of feed on the environment.  

"This year, ASC will release a standalone feed standard that will encompass all ingredients, whether land-based or from the sea, and will require ASC-certified farms to source feed from ASC-certified feed mills. It will also require ongoing improvements from feed mills until their marine ingredients are only sourced from fisheries that are certified against the Marine Stewardship Council or equivalent,” a spokesperson said.

In concluding its report, Changing Markets called on the aquafeed industry to stop using wild-caught fish and switch to more sustainable alternatives that do not give rise to other ecological problems. This is an area in which the feed industry is already spending millions of dollars on research. Amongst other suggestions were that the fish farming industry should concentrate on species that either do not require feed, such as shellfish; those that require less feed, such as tilapia; or those that thrive on a vegetarian diet, such as carp. In tandem, consumers were encouraged to move away from the salmon and prawns toward species that are less reliant on marine feed.


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