Illegal fishing vessels off the coast of Ascention Island, Island in Saint Helena, South Atlantic Ocean

How we can improve sustainability

The use of products from feed fisheries looks set to continue. The challenge is to improve their sustainability, whilst developing sustainable alternatives to reduce reliance on them as a resource.

Improving policies

Increasing the sustainability of feed fisheries requires progress on two fronts:

  • Improving industrial fisheries policy and management.
  • Improving the information basis for industrial fisheries management.

Improving industrial fisheries policy

Industrial fisheries are characterised by a lack of information on key aspects, such as their interactions with the marine ecosystem. There is a degree of uncertainty caused by the influence of environmental parameters on stocks. It is essential therefore, that the precautionary approach to managing these stocks is fully embraced in industrial fisheries policy and management. We recommend:

  • New and existing feed fisheries be subject to an initial and periodic review of their direct and indirect environmental impacts, for example through environmental impact assessment.
  • Lower and more precautionary catch limits which reflect the critical role of many feed fish in the marine ecosystem.
  • Environmental indicators be established for feed fisheries (including by-catch limits for non-target fish species and ecosystem indicators such as the productivity of seabirds dependent on specific feed fish stocks).

Improving the information basis for industrial fisheries management

The status of some fished stocks remains unknown.

Furthermore, there is a worrying lack of information on (i) interactions with the food chain, other fish species, marine wildlife and the wider ecosystem and (ii) the effectiveness of the current fisheries management measures.

Without such information, this assessment could not categorically conclude whether the two test fisheries – Peruvian anchovy and North Sea sandeel – were or were not approaching sustainability. Significant additional work is required to understand the environmental performance of these fisheries.

As a priority, we recommend that research be directed towards:

  • Decreasing uncertainty in the stock assessments/improved stock monitoring.
  • Increasing understanding of the effectiveness of the current fisheries management measures.
  • Increasing understanding of the fishery-ecosystem interaction.
  • Increasing understanding of the environment-fishery interaction, including the impact of climate change on feed fisheries. 
 Seascape viewed from Freiston Shore RSPB reserve. Looking east, across The Wash towards the Norfolk coast. A distant fishing boat vanishing in the heat haze. Lincolnshire, England.

What are the alternatives?

Increase the utilisation of by-products and trimmings from the commercial fish-processing sector. Encourage better recovery and use of fish wastes in fish meal and oil production.

Consider using currently discarded by-catch for fish meal and oil production. The benefits – and costs – of a wider discard ban in EU fisheries should be examined. Adoption of this strategy should be accompanied by continued efforts to reduce discarding

Reduce the use of fish meal and oils in aquaculture and agriculture through the continued development of vegetable substitutes for fish meal and fish oils in aquafeeds and animal diets.

Shy albatross Diomedea cauta, birds flocking around a small fishing boat, Stewart Island, New Zealand