Fish oil and fish meal are struggling to keep pace with global nutraceutical and farmed fish driven demand.
The European Parliament last week backed a ban on discards as part of broader changes to the EU Common Fisheries Policy.
The European Commission has said something like 23% of total catches are thrown away in some European fisheries.
If the new rules are ratified after further member state consideration, the EC said, “Fishermen will be obliged to land all the commercial species that they catch.”
Under-sized fish would not be able to be sold for human consumption and individual and national quotas may be called into play in the case of certain species.
Andrew Mallison, director general of the International Fishmeal and Fish Oil Organisation (IFFO) told us the mooted changes were “looking promising” for a sector desperately seeking fresh supply.
Packaged Facts estimates the global market for human use omega-3 products at €25.88bn in 2016, up from €18.95bn in 2011.
“The high level of thrown away fish is an unintended consequence of the EU quota system where by law you couldn’t land other fish. But that system is being reformed and offers a lot of potential if managed correctly,” Mallison said.
He empahsised any rules changes would not work if they warped incentives so that fisherman began specifically targeting discarded fish over their primary catches.
A discarded fish ban in Iceland and Norway operates successfully, he said, increasing catch yields without endangering species.
“Where is the omega-3 going to come from?”
Last year Baldur Hjaltason, strategic business development executive at Norwegian omega-3 supplier EPAX and chairman of the Global Organisation for EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) Omega-3 (GOED), recognised a supply crisis brewing in the omega-3 industry.
“The main fisheries in Morocco and Peru are near capacity, so you have to ask the question: Where is the omega-3 going to come from if it keeps growing as it forecast to? Algal oils may be able deliver more but can they deliver the high dose EPA oils that are increasingly being demanded by the pharma sector? But there are algal oil companies transferring their energies from biofuels to omega-3 oils so that offers some potential.”
“There is also plant research going on but that might be 10 to 15 years before it reaches commercially viable levels, so the industry has a problem it needs to tackle now.”
Discards down under
A fish discard system is in place as part of wider fisheries management in Australia. A spokesperson at a large fishing corporation there said: “A key aim of fisheries management has been to reduce interactions with non-target species and discards through using better gear; improved fishing practices and flexible, real-time quota systems.”
“If discards are unavoidable then the idea is to best utilise the product. Bear in mind we are still talking about non-targeted species.”
The EU aims to implement its simplified and reformed fisheries policies by 2015.
After publication GOED executive director Adam Ismail got in touch to say that while many European fisheries did not directly supply the omega-3 fish oil sector, "we definitely support any initiative aimed at better stewardship of the oceans and enforcement of illegal fishing activities."
He added: "Most of our industry depends on a healthy ocean and human health certainly does as well."