Ban urged on use of West African fish oil by Norwegian salmon farmers

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

Salmon farm in a fjord between snowy mountains in Western Norway © GettyImages/undefined undefined
Salmon farm in a fjord between snowy mountains in Western Norway © GettyImages/undefined undefined
A new campaign sees 39 organizations, including prominent groups from West Africa and Norway, urging the Norwegian government to prohibit its farmed salmon producers from utilizing fish oil sourced from West Africa.

The signatories to an open letter include representatives from West Africa’s small-scale fishing sector as well as Norwegian and international organizations such as Friends of the Earth Norway (Naturvernforbundet), the Environmental Protection Association of Norway (NMF), and Oceana.

Other notable groups supporting this campaign include Feedback, the Environmental Justice Foundation, and Seas at Risk.

The coalition argues​ that sourcing fish oil from West Africa exacerbates food insecurity in the region. They contend that a substantial portion of the fish oil used in Norwegian salmon farming is imported from this area, which is already grappling with severe food shortages.

According to their claims, the fish used to produce this oil could have provided up to four million people in West Africa with a year's supply of fish sufficient to meet their nutritional needs.

All these organizations are collectively calling on Norway’s leadership to curb the expansion of the country's salmon farming industry and to ensure complete transparency throughout corporate supply chains. They are advocating for an immediate ban on sourcing fish oil from regions suffering from food insecurity, insisting that Norwegian companies' practices align with the country's development policies.

Industry response

The letter and Feedback's report, Blue Empire​, claim a significant role for the four global aquafeed majors—Mowi, Skretting, Cargill, and BioMar—in supplying nearly all the feed used in Norwegian salmon farming. The campaigners maintain that these players source fish oil from Northwest Africa. However, responses from the feed giants provide a nuanced picture.

A spokesperson for Mowi acknowledged it purchased small amounts of fish oil from Mauritania for its Norwegian feed production, as disclosed in its annual reports​. However, the company has not sourced any raw materials from Mauritania since September 2023, said the representative.

"Feed is crucial for ensuring optimal fish health and performance, and it significantly contributes to the environmental footprint of salmon farming. To maintain leadership in environmental responsibility, Mowi prioritizes the sourcing of sustainable feed ingredients and strives to utilize feed as efficiently as possible at its fish farms.

"The geopolitical situation, particularly the war in Ukraine, reduced the range of available ingredients in 2022 and 2023. Despite these challenges, all purchases from Mauritania complied with Mowi’s policy on sustainable salmon feed​ and were third-party audited to ensure they did not contribute to local protein deficiencies."

Mowi, he reported, ensures full traceability of all feed ingredients, whether marine or non-marine in origin. The company does not source raw materials from illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) catches or from fish species classified as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, said the spokesperson.

The company, he added, aims to source all marine raw materials from suppliers committed to responsible fishery management practices and certified as sustainable by standards such as MSC, Marine Trust, or equivalent Fisheries Improvement Projects (FIPs).

Also commenting on this issue was Skretting Norway.

“We have a procurement policy to only buy marine raw materials from whole fish that are either certified (MSC or MarinTrust) or subject to a FIP,” confimed Leif Kjetil Skjæveland, sustainability and public affairs manager at that aquafeed player.

He told us that while Skretting Norway previously sourced fish oil from a public FIP in Mauritania, it did not buy any from Africa in 2023 and has not done so either in 2024.

Skjæveland further explained that purchasing fish oil from the Mauritania FIP supports the development of sustainable fisheries and improves local livelihoods in West Africa. “Pulling out, as the NGOs suggest, will only help those actors that are not moving to internationally acknowledged certification standards,” he added.

Skretting Norway, he continued, requires full traceability on marine ingredients and is an active member of the Global Roundtable on Marine Ingredients, which recently released an independent audit​ ​on the human rights aspects related to the Mauritania FIP.

Skretting discloses​ all the species and the countries it sources fish from, while human rights in its value chains is covered in its Code of Conduct for Business Partners​, and is a "critical" aspect of its assessment and audit of its suppliers. 

As the number of FIPs around the world has grown rapidly, businesses and conservation organizations need an easier way to access consistent, reliable information about FIP progress. FisheryProgress​ was designed to give any stakeholder a range of information about global FIPs from a quick snapshot of progress and opportunities to get involved to detailed evidence for improvements.

GettyImages-2084644867 (1)

Photo credit: GettyImages/Alejandro Pacheco

Cargill and BioMar said they are aligned with the IFFO on this issue. The marine ingredients organization highlighted that its members actively ensure an increasing share of fishmeal and fish oil is responsibly sourced through certification or FIPs.

In response to concerns about food security, the IFFO noted that the Global Roundtable on Marine Ingredients, established in 2021, has taken steps to address these kinds of issues through market pressure, dialogue, and third-party audits. A workshop co-organized with the FAO in Ghana in December 2023 gathered representatives from sub-Saharan communities to discuss the need for regulation and enforcement in the marine ingredients sector with a focus on both Sub-Saharan and West African regions, looking at how fishery resources could best contribute to food and nutrition security, and to livelihoods of small-scale and dependent fisheries communities in the context of the development of the fish-based feed industry.

"A joint statement​ afterwards insisted on the need for the marine ingredients sector to be regulated, laws to be enforced and only raw materials with no market for direct human consumption to be processed into fishmeal," reported the IFFO.

Feed producers face higher and higher requirements in the sourcing of marine ingredients from certified sources and/or fisheries undertaking a FIP process, stated the marine ingredients representative group.

"Such a requirement is central to compliance in the key certification schemes for the aquafeed industry,” reads the IFFO statement.

Atlantic salmon nutrient requirements

Fishmeal and fish oil provide crucial nutritional and palatability benefits in feed, which are essential during the first weeks of a salmon’s life to prevent diseases, reduce the need for antibiotics, and decrease mortality, as supported by studies in the Journal of Nutritional Science​ and the British Journal of Nutrition​, stressed the IFFO. Feed formulations continue to improve, enhancing the nutritional benefits and complementarity of fishmeal and fish oil—a strategy fully backed by IFFO through its research efforts. "Additionally, a 2020 third-party study has shown that salmon farming is already a net positive fish production process." 

Mowi addressed nutritional aspects as well outlining how the industry has evolved from its initial reliance on fishmeal and fish oil, incorporating other protein and lipid sources.

"A deeper understanding of Atlantic salmon nutrient requirements has facilitated the inclusion of novel raw materials in salmon feed. Mowi actively supports and monitors the development and testing of new raw materials, including omega-3 rich oils and sustainable protein sources. The company continues to increase the use of fish trimmings to produce fishmeal and fish oil for both integrated and externally sourced feed production.

"Mowi is dedicated to balancing the production of healthy meals for human consumption with its goal of being an environmentally responsible producer. This balance is achieved by sourcing sustainable feed ingredients and optimizing feed resource utilization at its farms."

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