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Fish oil shortages threaten Omega 3 levels in farmed salmon and trout


February 25 2011 Lewis Smith


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Anchovy fishing off Peru

John T Everett/ Photobank

Fish oil shortages will mean higher prices and lower Omega 3 levels for farmed salmon and trout unless alternative feeds can be found, researchers have warned.

Shortages of fish oil, which are a vital element of the diet for salmon and trout, are forecast as early as 2013.

The problem is set to intensify over the next decade because production of fish oil, which comes from wild fish such as anchovies, is already at or close to maximum levels yet demand for it continues to rise.

Only by finding new feeding regimes will salmon and trout farmers avoid having fish with lower Omega 3 levels, one of the biggest selling points, unless they are prepared to pay much higher costs, said Simon Davies, a professor of aquaculture nutrition at the University of Plymouth.

Research is now under way to establish how much fish oil in the diet of salmon and trout can be replaced by plant oils and at what stage of the fishes’ life cycles it can be used without harming their growth.

One technique that should be possible is to feed plant oil to the fish for long periods but putting fish oil back into their feed in the final weeks before they are harvested.

Resuming the fish oil diet should, said Professor Davies, ensure Omega 3 levels remain high. Fish oil is an important source in trout and salmon of Omega 3, and one of the prime reasons for people eating the fish is because in humans Omega 3 is strongly linked to healthier hearts and brains.

Professor Davies said changes in feeding strategies are essential for fish farms producing salmon and trout. At the moment “up to 30 per cent” of diet of farmed salmon is fish oil but unless producers are willing to supply only luxury markets they will have to find ways of keeping costs down.

He added: “There’s a danger of reducing Omega 3 in the final harvested product. As things stand at the moment farmed salmon and rainbow trout reflect a high Omega 3 level. The research is going to make sure that still happens but there will have to be strategic changes in the way the fish are fed.”

A recent Norwegian study forecast that such is the pressure on the world’s fish oil stocks that shortages could to be experienced by 2013.

Fish farming places the greatest pressure on fish oil supplies but there is competition from the pharmaceutical industry and increasing demand from the health food sector which uses it as in nutritional supplements.

Moreover, demand for farmed fish is rising worldwide as the human population increases - it is expected to increase from 6.5 billion today to 9 billion by 2050. Chinese demand for Atlantic salmon alone was up 42 per cent in 2009.

Dawn Purchase, of the Marine Conservation Society, said that in particular the Scottish salmon industry, which employs about 6,000 people and is worth £500 million, must reduce its reliance on fish oil or return to the days when it served only a luxury market.

She said fish oil must now be seen as a “really valuable” and finite resource that must be used wisely and replaced where possible with other products.

“In the UK we include a high proportion of fish meal and fish oil in the feed of farmed fish. But high fish oil content is going potentially to be a luxury that we can no longer afford,” she said.

“The MSC doesn't want to see it taken out of the diet. We are saying, let's make sure we use this in a strategic way. If we can substitute and supplement with other ingredients we can eke out the fish meal and fish oil.”

Fish oil comes from fish such as anchovies and because the quantity that can be caught each year without damaging and reducing stocks is limited, the quantity of fish oil available to the market is also limited.

Already this year there has been a reduction in availability because the Peruvian anchovy fishery, the biggest fish oil fishery in the world, yielded two-thirds less than normal because a slump in spawning numbers caused by El Nino meant it had to be closed.


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1 Responses to  "Fish oil shortages threaten Omega 3 levels in farmed salmon and trout"

Laura Says:

Good piece! Can you tell me who predicted the 2013 shortage? I'm trying to do some research on this but can't find anything.


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