Plenty more fish in the sea?

Fishing to supply fishmeal for aquaculture threatens U.K. bird populations
September 18, 2004

This year has seen the most catastrophic breeding season on record for the UK’s seabirds, and now they face another threat as the seas they depend on could be suffering untold damage at the hands of industrial fisheries.

These large fisheries harvest millions of tonnes of small shoaling fish to become feed for fish farms and other livestock, not human consumption. Fish farming is the fastest growing sector in the world food economy, and to keep up with the global demand, industrial fisheries may be seriously straining the UK’s marine fish stocks, and the birds that rely on them.

Industrial fisheries target small fish such as sandeels, sprats and anchovy to produce fishmeal and oil. These fish species prop up the entire marine food web, and yet little is known about the effect massive industrial fisheries are having on our seas.

The RSPB investigated two of the world’s largest fisheries - the Peruvian anchovy fishery and the North Sea Sandeel fishery - to gauge how sustainable this ‘feed fish’ industry truly is. The study concluded that industrial fisheries around the world are failing to meet crucial criteria to be considered sustainable. The anchovy fishery scored worst but the sandeel fishery was also deficient, failing to fully meet sustainability on around 60% of the criteria tested. From these findings, the RSPB is calling for more research - especially into interactions between industrial fisheries and the marine environment, better stock assessment, regulation and more efficient management of the industry to protect healthy fish stocks and healthy seas. The marine environment is the
last great wilderness of our planet and yet it is the least protected. We should be learning from past mistakes to make sure we protect our seas and benefit from them. This is the only way to prevent further crisis.

RSPB’s Head of Marine Policy Euan Dunn said, ‘Already, industrial fisheries make up 25 percent of total global catches. As the small fish being caught form the basis of the food chain for other predators such as larger fish, birds and marine mammals, it is vital we understand what impact industrial fishing has. There is too much at risk not to have the full understanding needed to make educated decisions about how to regulate this industry’.

‘Industrial fishing is straining the bounds of sustainability and simply can’t keep up with the enormous future growth in demand of fish feed we anticipate from aquaculture. This report demonstrates the urgent need to relieve this ‘fish gap’ pressure by seeking alternatives to fish meal and oil, such as the development of vegetable substitutes and better recovery of ‘waste’ from fish caught for human consumption. Failure to make this transition risks throwing our seas out of balance, with potentially catastrophic results.’

The complete findings of the Poseidon Aquatic Resource Management Ltd are available
by contacting RSPB Scotland on +44 131 311 6500 or from