When Fish is Turned into Feed

14 May 2013

According to the International Fishmeal and Fish Oil Organisation, there is little or no demand for human consumption for anchovies, as they are small, bony and oily. This justifies their capture on an immense scale for processing into fishmeal and fish oil, used to feed farmed fish like salmon as well as pigs and chickens. On Sunday, the last day of Slow Fish (Genoa, May 9-12), this assertion was dramatically challenged, first at a conference, “When Fish Is Turned Into Feed,” and then at the judging of a competition of anchovy recipes called “Small Bite, Big Taste.”

The conference, chaired by Silvio Greco, the president of the Slow Fish Scientific Committee, looked at some of the problems and possible solutions to the massive overfishing of small fish for feed around the world—up to 40% of the world’s catch, according to some estimates. Alain Le Sann of the Collectif Pêche et Developpement in France gave a presentation that focused first on the problem of tropical shrimp farming, one of the main sources of demand for fishmeal made from small pelagic fish like anchovies. He also mentioned the dozen industrial processing plants for fishmeal set up by the Chinese in Mauritania, processing fish that could have been eaten by the local population. He suggested other activities for the people currently involved in the unsustainable fish farming industry, like shellfish farming, aquaculture integrated with agriculture, seaweed gathering and spirulina production.

Giovanni Battista Palmegiano, a researcher at the Institute of Food Production Sciences in Turin, introduced some of the alternatives that were being explored to fish-based feed, like insect meal, corn gluten, rice protein concentrates and soy and peanut oils, but concluded that no one solution had yet been found.
The negative effects of taking huge quantities of wild fish out of the seas in order to feed farmed fish and other farmed animals were presented by Patricia Majluf of the Cayetano Heredia University in Peru. She said the Peruvian anchovy, Engraulis ringens, was being fished on a massive scale in Peru, to the extent that stocks had almost completely collapsed in the 1990s. She said the global demand for fishmeal and oil was leading to ecological and social degradation. Anchovies are at the center of a rich ecosystem, near the bottom of a food chain that supports many other fish, birds and mammals. She said that catch levels for the Peruvian anchovies, known as anchovetas, needed to be reduced in order to preserve the ecosystem’s productivity, and that increasing their value by using them for human instead of animal consumption would mean catching less for the same profit.

“They’re tasty and delicious, abundant, cheap and nutritious,” she said. “Half a kilo of anchovies a week and you get all the nutrients you need.” She said the fish-processing industry in Peru was also hugely polluting. So in 2006 she helped introduce a project to promote the anchovetas, working with chefs and repositioning the anchovies as a food for people instead of animals.

The “Eat Anchoveta” campaign has been very successful, and the rebranded anchovies can now be found in all Peruvian supermarkets, as well as being shipped around the world. In the run-up to Slow Fish, Slow Food also launched a campaign to promote the joys of the anchovy, with a recipe competition called “Small Bite, Big Taste,” calling on its network to send in their best anchovy-based recipes. On Sunday, following the conference, a panel of judges convened at a waterfront bar at the Porto Antico in Genoa to judge the finalists of the competition. Click here for the winning recipe.

Read the reaction of IFFO (The Marine Ingredients Organisation) to this article

Read our response to IFFO’s reaction.

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