A third of all global fish landings are destined for fish meal and oil each year, caught mostly in dedicated reduction fisheries.
These fish are pressed, dried and milled into concentrated fish oil and fishmeal. A smaller percentage of fish meal is derived from byproducts of fish processing and an unknown percentage is derived from unreported or illegal bycatch.
While there is a trend in aquaculture research on replacing fish-based products with plant-based products, such as canola oil and coconut oil, the rapid expansion of aquaculture is resulting in an ever-increasing portion of the fishmeal produced being used by fish farms.
Fishmeal is typically produced from prey fish, which are small schooling fish that are ecologically important as prey for large predatory fish, seabirds and whales. The production of fishmeal has remained relatively constant over the past two decades, consuming about a third of the global catch of fish (30 million metric tons per year).
The expansion of carnivorous fish aquaculture is increasing the demand for fishmeal and pressure to increase exploitation of prey fish used to produce fishmeal.
Among farmed fish, salmon consume more fish oil than all other aquaculture operations combined. In 2003, salmon pens alone consumed 51 percent of all fish oil produced worldwide and 19 percent of world fishmeal supplies.
In fact, the astronomical growth and success of Chile’s salmon aquaculture industry is made possible by readily available fish oil supplies produced within the country. For salmon aquaculture, an estimated four to 11 pounds of prey fish are used to grow only one pound of farmed salmon.