Originally devised out of concern about overfishing, Forage Fish Dependency Ratio (FFDR) is a concept for quantifying the environmental impact of feed use in aquaculture systems. It presents the quantity of wild fish used in feeds in relation to the amount of farmed fish - usually salmon - as a ratio, essentially setting limits on fish meal and oil inclusion levels in fish feed.
The measure is used by the ASC in its Salmon Standard certification program for salmon producing companies, with a proposal to revise down the value currently under public consultation.
“The Salmon Standard took nearly eight years to produce - we started the process in 2005 and it was published in 2012. In that time there have been a lot of developments in feed efficiency which enable salmon producers to use less fish meal and oil than they needed to ten years ago.
"In essence, we are proposing that FFDR can be reduced for both fish meal and oil. The original value is not very challenging and can be achieved by virtually the whole industry,” said ASC standards and certification coordinator Michiel Fransen, explaining the reason for reviewing the FFDR figures.
He added: “We are not against the use of fish meal and oil in salmon production, but we do need to make sure it comes from sustainable sources.”
The proposals are for FFDR requirements to be revised to 1.2 for fishmeal and 2.8 for fish oil, from the original figures of 1.35 for fishmeal and 2.95 for fish oil.
The consultation closes on 7th February, and, depending on the feedback received, the ASC said it hoped to finalize a revised standard in the next six to eight months.
“It is difficult to predict the exact timing as that depends on the comments we receive. If feedback is in line with what we have suggested, it will only take a few weeks to produce a final version. If, not, there will be further discussions with stakeholders,” said Fransen.
Arguing the case against FFDR
One stakeholder that has already voiced its opposition to the proposal is IFFO, the trade organization for the marine ingredients industry.
In a position statement published last week, IFFO outlined several issues with using FFDR as a measure. Firstly, it argued that FFDR “incorrectly assumes” that the species used in marine ingredient production would have higher value to society in other areas such as direct consumption markets. Secondly, it claimed that the setting of FFDR values precludes salmon producers from being ASC certified whilst using higher marine inclusion in their feeds as a point of differentation.
IFFO has also questioned FFDR’s value in supporting analysis of fed aquaculture’s environmental impact.
"FFDR is proposed as a way of managing the aquaculture industry’s impact on forage fish populations, by those who assume that they are mismanaged and harvested excessively on account of fishmeal and fish oil’s use in aquaculture. This assumption is not based on the reality of an industry that has made great progress on issues of sustainability,” IFFO’s technical director, Neil Auchterlonie, told FeedNavigator.
Instead of focusing on FFDR, Auchertlonie suggested that the best way of managing the environmental impact of marine ingredient use in aquafeeds is through direct effective management of the fisheries that provide the raw material for the production of fish meal and oil.
“Management of those issues at source is a better method of securing the sustainability of marine ingredients and achieves impact in relation to environmental performance, and also social and economic factors such as jobs in the industry and contributions to local economies. FFDR does not support these goals directly,” he said.
He argued that setting limits on fish meal and oil inclusion levels in fish feed is unlikely to affect fisheries management directly, and that possible consequences of this approach could include driving marine ingredients even lower in salmon feed. This could have negative impacts on farmed fish quality and health, he warned.
Whilst the ASC has initiated the lowering of the FFDR for its own sustainability standard, the association pointed out that this wasn’t the sole driver for reducing the value.
“The price and availability of the product are bigger drivers. Fish meal and fish oil have a high price and are in limited supply,” said Fransen.
Countering this argument, Auchterlonie described the production of fish meal and oil as “relatively stable” and said that “a significant contribution to global fishmeal and fish oil production is made through the processing of fisheries and aquaculture byproduct as raw material. IFFO estimates this to be in the region of 35% and steadily increasing.”