Farmed fish such as prawns and Scottish salmon labelled as sustainable in UK supermarkets may unwittingly be contributing to the collapse of fish stocks in Asia and Africa, a report has found.
Farmed fish are frequently certified as sustainable despite being fed with unsustainable food, which is made from wild fish, according to Dutch NGO Changing Markets. This food, known as fishmeal and fish oil (FMFO), is often produced using destructive and sometimes illegal practices that “strip the ocean bare” and damage marine ecosystems, the report stated.
The investigation found that Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Aldi, Lidl, Co-op, Tesco, Asda, Iceland, Morrison’s, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer all source fish from companies that use unsustainable FMFO as feed in their farms.
Almost one fifth of the world’s annual wild fish catch is now taken out of the ocean to be ground down for FMFO to feed livestock or farmed fish. FMFO is becoming increasingly important as people eat more and more farmed fish. The report estimates that that farmed species will account for 62 per cent of the seafood the world consumes by 2030.
In India and Vietnam - two key countries for supplying this growing demand - collapsing fish stocks are pushing fishing vessels to “systematically plunder” the oceans for species that have not previously been caught for FMFO. Vessels are also catching juvenile fish which should be left in their natural environment to reach maturity and ensure a stable fish population. In some cases, the researchers found FMFO had been exported with falsified food safety certificates.
These damaging fishing practices are being allowed to go unpunished partly because of a glaring conflict of interest in the fishmeal industry. The trade body which represents the interests of FMFO suppliers and lobbies governments on their behalf is also tasked with certifying that those producers meet environmental standards. Despite this, major British retailers accept assurances from the body
Natasha Hurley from Changing Markets, explained, “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. 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."