What are the constraints to responsible fishmeal production in SE Asia?

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© istock/Thatpichai
© istock/Thatpichai

Related tags Southeast asia

Providing access to responsibly sourced local fishmeal supplies for both multinational and domestic aquaculture players based in South East Asia is the ultimate goal of a joint IFFO and GAA project.

The Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA), which champions environmentally and socially responsible aquaculture, and the Marine Ingredients Organization, (IFFO), said the environmental and social challenges linked to the sourcing of fishmeal and fish oil raw material in South East Asia have been widely acknowledged. Now, both industry bodies want to take those challenges on, and promote change.

“We caught up with the GAA earlier this year to inform each other of upcoming projects, and we realized we were on parallel tracks in relation to this very topic. We thought it would be sensible to combine both funding and efforts. 

“Double the funding will allow us to do more and the involvement of both parties will raise the profile of the project even further. We want to get the fisheries and the feed companies on board,”​ Andrew Mallison, IFFO’s director general, told us today.

He said as aquaculture production moves eastward, certified fishmeal and fish oil local production needs to follow. Demand for responsibly produced fishmeal in this region is increasing, particularly as international companies set up bases there, but there is a fundamental lack of well-managed responsible fisheries to source from locally, he added.

Scoping work

This initiative between ourselves and the GAA is a scoping exercise. The idea is to set up structures for future work, so this phase, over 18 months, is exploratory.

“We want to establish a baseline first, showing who the main actors are in supplying raw material for fishmeal production, with Thailand and Vietnam as the countries we are concentrating on to begin with. We also want to determine what controls are already in place, and where the gaps are in relation to that oversight.”

Some of the environmental challenges to be addressed are linked to the fact that fisheries in South East Asia are mixed in nature, are highly diverse - very different to their cold-water, single stock ecosystem Western counterparts, he said.

It is difficult to certify a fishery in SE Asia due to the fact many different species are fished and there is a lack of data on what is caught. Operators typically would not know what they are going to land until it is on deck. The fundamentals are there – the fisheries in the region have abundant supply and there is prolific breeding – they could be made more responsible but we need to work out the correct indicators to manage the harvesting and determine which species are the vulnerable ones.”

There is also a lack of regulation and enforcement in relation to labor standards in the region, set against a backdrop of an influx of migrant and illegal workers into those countries, continued Mallison.

“We want to see what protection there is for workers to ensure less scrupulous fishing operators don’t exploit vulnerable people. This is a multifaceted problem. We have already had long discussions with local government on the issue to try to agree a way forward.  They are willing to give us access to data on migrants. We will also engage with stakeholders like CP Foods who have been very active in this regard in terms of their own supply chain; we will look to see what expertise they can bring to the initiative.”

It is anticipated that NGOs active in either environmental or labor standard development will participate in the project as well, he said. 

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