A new report by Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP) released today finds that overall sustainability performance in the reduction fisheries sector has continued to decrease slightly since 2018, although industry leadership and commitment remains solid. The decrease in performance was driven primarily by a drop in scoring of NE Atlantic blue whiting. Of the total volume in analyzed fisheries, 3 percent was rated very well-managed, 33 percent reasonably well-managed, 22 percent poorly managed, and 42 percent was not scored. 

“This year’s report contains a mix of positives and negatives,” said Dave Martin, director for aquaculture and reduction fisheries at SFP. “The industry in Europe and Latin America continues to support responsible sourcing despite minor declines in overall sustainability performance.  Yet, significant environmental and social challenges persist in key production regions. Given the global scope of the challenges, SFP is encouraging all users of marine ingredients to come together in a global roundtable to support environmental and social improvements.”

The 2020 report, which is the 11th edition of the annual assessment by SFP, reviews the management of 20 of the leading European and Latin American fisheries used for fishmeal and fish oil. This year’s analysis was hindered by delays in several stock assessments due to COVID-19, and by not scoring the largest stock in the review (Anchoveta – Peruvian northern-central).  

Other key findings form the report include: 

  • Of the fisheries analyzed, changes in SFP sustainability categories from last year were observed in nine fisheries. Five fisheries improved, while four decreased.
  • The share of volume in the lowest category, “poorly managed,” nearly doubled compared to 2019 and accounts for 22 percent of the catch analyzed. Some of these fisheries are relatively well-managed, but either the stock is in a seriously depleted condition or fishing pressure remains too high.
  • Almost all reduction fisheries covered in this overview continue to target low-trophic-level (LTL) species. It is important that the management of these fisheries focus on an ecosystem-based (rather than single-species) approach, given the key role of some of these species as a source of food for upper levels of the food chain.
  • Coastal states continue to set unilateral quotas for NE Atlantic blue whiting that have resulted in combined total allowable catch limits (TACs) well above the level advised by ICES and anticipated in the long-term management plan. Blue whiting makes up 13.7 percent of the volume of the fisheries assessed, and this drop in scoring was the prime driver in the overall drop in sustainability performance. In response to declines in this and other regional fisheries, the industry-led North Atlantic Pelagic Advocacy Group was formed, with the goal of resolving the TAC issue. 
  • Given an ongoing legal dispute around the stock assessment process, SFP is not in a position to make a determination this year regarding scores for stock health and fishing pressure for Peruvian Northern-Central anchoveta, which makes up 42.4 percent of the volume of fisheries assessed in the report.

The report underscores the critical need for environmental and social improvements in hotspot areas, including Southeast Asia and Northwest Africa. Southeast Asian fisheries provide significant volumes of marine ingredients, yet are poorly understood and plagued by persistent environmental and social issues. As there is so little data publicly available on these fisheries, SFP was unable to include them in the annual assessment.  While many fisheries from Northwest Africa are included in the report, it is of utmost importance to develop regional fisheries management strategies to strengthen local efforts to safeguard food security and livelihoods of local fishing communities that depend on fish as their main source of protein and income. 

The report also raises important questions around the sustainability of novel marine ingredient replacements, in particular whether even widespread adoption of novel alternatives would have any net conservation benefit for fisheries. Over the past several years, there have been growing calls from NGOs and others to replace marine ingredients in aquaculture feed with novel alternatives—including insects, micro- and macroalgae, yeast, and crops—in the name of sustainability. While these alternatives merit investigation as a way to meet growing feed demand related to increased global aquaculture production, they bring a variety of environmental and other trade-offs that must be fully considered. 

Trygve Berg Lea, Sustainability Director at Skretting, commented:

“The report from SFP clearly highlights the need for improvement in some fisheries to ensure sustainable development for long-term success. Skretting is committed to supporting sustainable fisheries, and has recently called on the regulators from the coastal nations who set the quotas for the NE Atlantic blue whiting fishery to find agreement. Unsustainable management ignoring scientific advice is a threat to the industry. As an industry partner, we are committed to take appropriate actions to underline the importance of sustainable management of blue whiting.” 

Erik Olave Gracey, Sustainability Specialist at BioMar, said, 

“The SFP 2020 reduction fisheries report presents mixed results, driven by the failure of coastal states to agree on scientific recommendations for the blue whiting fishery. Progress is dependent on robust science, trust, and cooperation, both locally and globally. BioMar will continue to work with partners like SFP to ensure that marine ingredients are harvested from socially responsible and well-managed fisheries.” 

Michiel Fransen, Director of the Standards and Science Department at the Aquaculture Stewardship Council noted:

“This year’s report highlights the need to remain focused on improving the sustainability performance of global reduction fisheries. Value chains globally are highly positive about the improvements made by fisheries working up towards MSC certification and MarinTrust recognition. Both improvement programs and market commitments are vital mechanisms in driving this change further. Where fisheries have declined in their scoring, we would encourage the actors in those value chains to act pre-competitively. By working collectively, you can provide incentives for your supplying fisheries to improve their sustainability performance. As scorings in the past have shown, better is possible, and we all have a role to play in making that happen.”

Dave Robb, Sustainability Director at Cargill Aqua Nutrition, said:

“The SFP annual report supports our ability – and the ability of the aquaculture industry – to assess marine ingredient supply chains, demonstrate management progress and further feed sustainability. We’re pleased to see improvements this year, which reflect collaborative fishery improvement projects (FIPs) that develop management quality and stock health. Management and stock status in blue whiting remains a concern. We are creating an advocacy FIP with NAPA (North Atlantic Pelagic Advocacy) to work with regulators on a sustainable harvest strategy for blue whiting, herring and mackerel.”

Download the report here.

Contact: Dave Martin, +1-503-819-9044