Better by-product use could increase EPA-DHA supply by 25%

Mapping the future supply of fish oil

By Annie Harrison-Dunn

- Last updated on GMT

Researchers claim the global supply of EPA and DHA could be upped by 25% or even doubled through by-product use. ©iStock/PhotoShoppin
Researchers claim the global supply of EPA and DHA could be upped by 25% or even doubled through by-product use. ©iStock/PhotoShoppin

Related tags Fish oil Omega-3 fatty acid Docosahexaenoic acid

Researchers from the University of Stirling have used FAO data to map the future use of fishery by-products in the production of marine ingredients like omega-3. They found an overall increasing trend in the amount of fishmeal and fish oil being obtained from by-products but room to increase use.  

With backing from the trade group The Marine Ingredients Organisation (IFFO), the UK researchers used models of current and future fisheries and aquaculture production to estimate availability of marine raw material for the next five and ten years. 

The most potential for gains in fishmeal and fish oil from under-utilised resources from both aquaculture and wild capture was in Asia and China, amounting to about 27 million tonnes of raw marine material.

IFFO technical director Dr Neil Auchterlonie told us the calculations​ provided a “strategic overview”​ on how the production patterns of fishmeal and fish oil may change over time.  

“Models are important in guiding decision-making for the industry and part of that will be reviewing how markets will change and plan for investment in plants to process some of the new raw material that becomes available,”​ he said. 

“We also want to communicate the opportunity to governments as their help in developing logistics and processing facilities could reduce waste and contribute to the growth of aquaculture.” 

The researchers said the collection and processing of all by-products not currently used for fish oil extraction would amount to about 50,000 tonnes of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) with around 80% of this coming from wild capture fisheries. 

They claim this would increase global supply of EPA and DHA by around 25%. 

They also said this supply could be nearly doubled to around 170,000 tonnes of EPA and DHA if all fish were processed to produce additional by-product. However, they conceded around 70% of this would come from Asian countries like China where most fish was sold whole and there were few fish processing plants. 

The model predicts a future shift towards oil from by-products from aquaculture fisheries, but warned this would be good news for protein but not necessarily EPA and DHA, which are found in higher levels in whole wild-caught pelagic fish. 

aquaculture iStock RADZONIMO

Push toward by-products​ 

Dr Auchterlonie said the concept of using by-products was not a new one, with UK fishmeal production running on nearly 100% by-product raw material. 

“However, it is fair to say that there have been some recent pressures on the availability of raw material from capture fisheries for the production of fishmeal and fish oil, especially with the recent El Nino event in South America and subsequent effects on the landings of Peruvian anchovy,”​ he said. 

“In addition, there are drivers such as the EU’s Circular Economy Strategy which aims to manage production and consumption across the whole cycle and specifically supports the market for raw materials.” 

Yet the Stirling University researchers said by-products were likely to remain of low value and therefore large quantities would be required to make collection “economically attractive”.​ 

Auchterlonie said here the growth and refinement of aquaculture could spark real change. 

“Maintaining consistent supply of raw material is one of the biggest challenges in the sector. Improved collection of by-product from capture fisheries will help. 

“The growth of aquaculture and the availability of raw material through that supply is something which will also help with that factor, as aquaculture by-product is consistent in both availability and quality.” 

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