Norwegian Salmon Farms Gobble Up Fish That Could Feed Millions In Africa: Report

Norwegian Salmon Farms Gobble Up Fish - Merchant Navy Info - News

Norwegian salmon farms are taking huge amounts of wild fish from West Africa and mining the region’s food security. According to a statement from the U.K.-based NGO Feedback. The study comes as the industry faces a wave of public opposition after revelations of high mortality rates. The sale of fish is thought unfit for human consumption. There are accusations of antitrust violations by the European Commission.

The report, titled “Blue Empire,” was produced with other organizations. Including Greenpeace Africa and The West African Association for the Development of Artisanal Fishing, and publicized in January. It quantifies the use of fishmeal and fish oil imported from Mauritania, Senegal, and the Gambia to produce feed for salmon farms in Norway. The world’s main producer of Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar).

According to the report, in 2020, Norwegian salmon farms needed almost 2 million metric tons of edible wild fish to produce fish oil intended for feeds that produced nearly 1.5 million metric tons of farmed salmon.

Up to 7% of these wild fish (123,000-144,000 metric tons) were small pelagic species caught along the coasts of West Africa. They could have fed between 2.5 million and 4 million people, according to the report. Denmark, the United States, Peru, and Iceland are other major fish oil suppliers to Norway.

Norway exports most of its farmed salmon: In 2023, the country exported 1.2 million metric tons, valued at $11.6 billion, with the majority going to Poland, France, and the United States, according to the Norwegian Seafood Council, an industry marketing group. Hurley said an increasing share of its exports goes to emerging markets, such as China.

Feeding the Planet

Since its beginnings in Norway in the early 1970s, salmon farming has faced criticism for exploiting marine resources to feed predatory species.

“The artificial feed that was developed at the beginning had a very high level of fishmeal and fish oil from pelagic species. They are perfectly good to eat,” Alessandro Lovatelli. Aquaculture officer at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) ‘s Aquaculture Technology & Production unit. He told this reporter in 2023 while producing the documentary “Until the End of the World.”

In the industry’s early years, up to 7 kilograms (15.4 pounds) of small pelagic fish were used to produce 1 kg (2.2 lbs) of farmed salmon, according to Lovatelli. “That created a lot of concern globally, ethically,” he said.

This figure dropped significantly in the following decades. After the industry made technological progress in the genetic selection of farmed fish and developing alternative feed mixtures. In 2022, marine ingredients constituted 25-30% of the average Norwegian salmon feed. While plant-based ingredients were the main component (60%), especially soy (21%) and canola oil (18%), according to a report by the U.K.-based consulting company Ernst & Young.

Report Calls for Halt to Growth

In recent years, the industry has described itself as a model of sustainability: “Out of the 17 SDGs, the industry can contribute significantly to at least ten,” the Norwegian company Mowi. The biggest salmon producer globally, wrote in its latest industry handbook, referring to the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals.

The Feedback report takes a different perspective. Recommending the Norwegian government to “halt the growth of Norway’s salmon farming sector” and “ensure the domestic farmed salmon industry does not undermine its global development goals.”

The NGO based its calculations on public and commercial data and company reports by the four companies supplying nearly 100% of the feed used in Norwegian salmon farming. Mowi, Dutch-owned Skretting, U.S.-based Cargill, and Denmark-based BioMar. According to Feedback’s analysis. All of these companies sourced fish oil made from small pelagics caught in FAO’s Major Fishing Area 34, located off West Africa.

Industry Response (or Silence) on West African Fish Concerns

According to FAO, small pelagic fish “contribute significantly” to this region’s local economy and food security. Representing 90% of Mauritania’s total annual catches and 75% of the Gambia’s. FAO also reports that in the last decade. The stocks of round sardinella (Sardinella aurita) and Madeiran sardinella (S. maderensis) have been decreasing to an “alarming” state.

According to a 2022 study, pelagic fish provide 65% of the population’s animal protein requirements in Senegal. The country, together with Mauritania, also supplies small pelagics to other West African countries, such as the Ivory Coast, Mali, and Nigeria. The same study estimates that fish consumption dropped by 50% between 2009 and 2018 in Senegal. A reduction in the availability of small pelagic fish drove them.

The four feed producers mentioned above, and the Norwegian Seafood Council did not respond to Mongabay’s requests for comment on the feedback report.

Skretting told Feedback in a comment that it only buys West African raw materials from the MarinTrust Fishery Improvement Project (FIP) in Mauritania. In contrast, Mowi told the Norwegian newspaper D.N. that only fishers imports marine ingredients that are compliant with its sustainability policies.

According to FAO, 35% of wild fish stocks are overexploited globally. At the same time, about 20% of the global catch, 18 million metric tons of fish, is used for nonfood purposes. Primarily to produce fishmeal and fish oil used in aquaculture feed.

Public pushback

In terms of individuals, an investigation published in February in the journal Animal Welfare estimates that between 1.1 and 2.2 trillion wild fishes are caught globally each year. About half are changed into fishmeal and fish oil.

“It would be much more efficient — and would benefit animals, people and our planet — if we left more of them in the sea and most of those still caught were fed to people,” Phil Brooke, a co-author of the study, said in a press release.

The pressure on wild fish will likely rise in the coming years. Aquaculture is the fastest-growing food production sector globally. Norway plans to improve its production to 5 million metric tons of farmed salmon in 2050. According to Feedback’s calculations, this rising production would demand 6.2 million metric tons of Feedback’ fish each year.

“The concern from our viewpoint, as an organization that works on the food system and food justice, is that by tripling production from existing levels. The Norwegian salmon farming industry is also going to be tripling its conditions for wild caught fish,” Hurley said.

Public opinion has soured on the Norwegian government’s plans in the last few months after several scandals. Footage from salmon farms in Norway and Iceland. Produced by journalists, public authorities, and local activists and broadcast on national television. They displayed huge amounts of dead and dying fish in the pens, many severely injured by parasites.

Earlier in February, the Norwegian Veterinary Institute said in a press release that in 2023. A record 62.7 million salmon died in Norway’s farms. Meaning that an average of 16.7% of all adult salmon farmed in Norway died in cages before reaching slaughter.

Salmon Farm Mortality

According to Brun, the main causes of mortality are infestations of salmon lice and the techniques for treating the parasites. Such as mechanical treatments and hot-water baths, which can injure or kill the fish.

“In addition, we have several infectious diseases causing mortalities on their own. Also, weaken the fish so the general condition and immune system is not completely fit. Frequent handling of infected, stressed fish is an underlying cause of the issues,” Brun said.

To add to the industry’s troubles, in January, the European Commission accused six top Norwegian salmon producers. Including Mowi, of disobeying antitrust laws. In recent months, some producers have been charged of selling salmon unfit for human consumption for years.

The Norwegian authorities have backed the plan to increase salmon farming. Still, they recently imposed a 25% resource rent tax on aquaculture and began unannounced farm inspections. They introduced a “traffic light system to limit the impact of farming on wild salmon populations.

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