Report: Food security in Senegal and Mauritania undermined by growth of fishmeal and fish oil sector

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

Aerial view of fishing village of Djiffer. Saloum Delta National Park, Joal Fadiout, Senegal. Africa. © GettyImages/mariusz_prusaczyk
Aerial view of fishing village of Djiffer. Saloum Delta National Park, Joal Fadiout, Senegal. Africa. © GettyImages/mariusz_prusaczyk

Related tags Fishmeal IFFO Fish oil Sengal Mauritania

A new study underlines the gap between current practices in small pelagic fish value chain in Senegal and Mauritania and the fishmeal and fish oil industry’s global standards.

The report​ found that small scale fishers and supply chains have been displaced and food security undermined by the growth of the fishmeal and fish oil (FMFO) sector in those two West African nations; the FMFO industry in Senegal and Mauritania does not have the desired impacts on standard of living, on labor rights, and the environment.

The study stressed that a responsible small pelagics industry has the potential, however, to positively impact human rights of the local population: bringing stability to the fisheries in this region to support economic growth and provide a stable employment to local populations in a place where it is sorely needed.


The rapid development of the FMFO industry in that region of Africa has been increasingly criticized for exploiting small pelagic fish stocks, and polluting the local environment, among other negative impacts.

The Global Roundtable on Marine Ingredients, which was co-founded by marine ingredients organization, IFFO, and the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP) in 2021, wanted to better understand the issues raised within the small pelagic fish value chain at all levels - fisheries, artisanal processing and FMFO factory level - and opportunities for making improvements in the sector.

Human rights impact assessment

It commissioned Partner Africa to undertake a Human Rights Impact Assessment (HRIA) of the small pelagic fish value chain in Mauritania and Senegal in 2022 and early 2023, to identify positive and adverse impacts of the value chain on all actors involved including FMFO factories and artisanal processing and to identify strategies to drive positive change within this sector.

“This study is inspired by the internationally recognized HRIA methodology developed by the Danish Institute of Human Rights. The findings are based on qualitative data collection methods, using a human rights lens and participatory interviewing techniques focusing on interviewees’ views, opinions, experience, and testimonials,” explained Annefloor Alting, senior consultant at Partner Africa.

In Senegal, the scope of the study was limited to only identifying impacts for artisanal fishers and processors. In Mauritania, the scope of the study also included identifying impacts at the commercial vessel level as well as the FMFO factory level.

Why do small pelagic fish represent a strategic commodity in West Africa?

The report notes that small pelagic fish consist of different types of migrating fish usually moving in schools. Common species include herring, sardines, anchovies and mackerel. These fish are known as low trophic level species or forage fish in that they play an important role in the ocean food web. Many bigger animals such as larger fish, seabirds and sea mammals rely on them for food.

However, small pelagic fish are also some of the world’s most caught and traded fish, making up 28% of global wild capture. In 2017, total catches of small pelagics in Mauritania, The Gambia, Senegal and Guinea-Bissau was around 1,300,000 tons, with Mauritania accounting for 65% of these followed by Senegal (28%).

As described in many reports and as confirmed by the study done in Mauritania and Senegal, they represent a strategic commodity in West Africa because:

  • They play a key role in the food security of rural and urban populations with low purchasing power by providing protein at a more affordable price than other typical sources such as meat.
  • They support for a large number of direct and indirect jobs throughout the traditional value chain for human consumption, while stimulating many related and peripheral activities.
  • They are easy to transport once transformed (dried, salted, smoked), thus facilitating its availability in the most remote and isolated areas.

Data indicates that many species of small pelagics (except for sardines) are already “fully exploited” or even overexploited, reports Partner Africa. 

"Many countries have put in place limitations to fishing small pelagics (quotas, fishing zones, biological rest periods, prohibition to catch/sell juvenile fish, etc) and some industry actors have long taken steps to control their supply chain by certifying sustainable practices of fisheries. However, these commendable initiatives are not implemented widely enough on a regional scale to protect stocks from declining and avoid adverse impacts on the population’s right to food from occurring."

Small pelagic fish are in addition to fish trimmings, a key source for fishmeal and fish oil production by cooking, squeezing, drying and grinding them. 

Most fishmeal today, according to the IFFO, comes from by-products (currently 1/3 of the world’s fishmeal production) and in light of the finite supply of small pelagics, the organization stresses that other raw materials are being introduced in the aquaculture diet from soy to land animal proteins, algal products, microbial proteins, and insect meal.


The study identified recommendations for government and policymakers, FMFO factory management and owners, international buyers and investors, civil society organizations, and other parties. 

To mitigate the adverse human rights impacts identified in the study governments must implement, monitor, and enforce regulations on limiting the number and capacity of FMFO factories and commercial vessels, stressed the authors. 

The consultancy also encourages the authorities to promote more fish for human consumption, to boost the status of fish stocks, to ensure rights to a healthy environment are met, along with an adequate standard of living and labor rights, and to improve the livelihoods of artisanal fishers and processors.

“This study underlines the gap between the current practices in Senegal and Mauritania and the fishmeal and fish oil industry’s global standards. In Mauritania and Senegal, where FMFO production represents respectively 1.12% and 0.22% of global output, the Global Roundtable wants to be part of the solution to issues raised by local communities. To achieve this, collaboration between governments and private actors must be strengthened, based on a clear understanding of everyone’s responsibilities,” said Árni Mathiesen, independent chair of the Global Roundtable. “As a first next step, the Global Roundtable is working with the FAO and others to convene a workshop on Sub-Saharan Africa.” 

Goverment action in Mauritania

Partner Africa acknowledges that the Mauritanian government has started implementing policies over the past few months to better regulate the industry.

"Though this is a step in the right direction, these policies will only prove successful when regulated and enforced well. The long-term effect of these policies are yet to be seen."

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