Fish stock concern could affect in consumption advice

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Fish oil Docosahexaenoic acid Overfishing

The UK's Food Standards Agency may review its advice that people
should eat at least two portions of fish a week for its health
benefits, in the light of environmental concerns.

Fears about reduced fish stocks have escalated in recent times. After analysis of United Nations figures on marine protected areas worldwide, an international team of researchers warned in November that all seafood stocks around the world may collapse by 2050 if fishing continues at its current rate.

A spokesperson confirmed that the UK agency is presently collating information in order to conduct a review, and is drawing on advice from the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on sustainability. Further details of the timescale or potential end result were not available prior to prior to publication.

The news will be welcomed by advocates of sustainable fishing - and could also translate into good news for food supplements.

Increased awareness of the benefits of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, of which oily fish are the best source, has already led to huge gains for the fish oil supplements market. Research has investigated benefits including for heart health, mental function and development, eye health and joint health.

Fish oil suppliers are generally keen to stress the sustainability of their sourcing; in general they offer oil from meal plants. Other parts of a catch are earmarked for other industries and uses.

But some have already put steps in place to ensure they maintain access to supply in the future. For instance, Norway's EPAX started 2007 with the announcement of its acquisition by Norwegian fish giant Astevoll to this end.

EPAX CEO Bjorn Refsum told that although the company has not experienced any problems with crude oil sourcing to date, demand for crude fish oil is increasing from the fish-farming and omega-3 industries.

He said 100 per cent of the ocean's capacity is presently being utilised, the company identified the potential for a scarcity in supply in the future.

Other companies, such as US-based Martek Biosciences, are leveraging awareness of fish sustainability issues to market omega-3 from microalgae - the source from which fish actually obtain the omega-3 oils that end up in their flesh.

At present, however, large-scale production omega-3 from microalgae is limited to DHA - while oily fish contain EPA too.

Two studies published in the United States last year concluded that the benefits of fish consumption outweigh any potential risks from contaminants. This led Bill Hogarth, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) marine fisheries service, which co-sponsored the independent study together with FDA, to say there show there should be no change in US public health guidelines.

Harvard researcher Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, who led one of the studies, said:

"Environmental issues of aquaculture and fishing are real and important,"​ said Dr Mozaffarian. "We should try to improve what we do to obtain fish, but I don't think this should confuse the issue [of safety]. It is an important but unrelated concern."

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