Environmental campaigners call on UK supermarkets to end sales of meat and farmed fish raised on fishmeal and oil from The Gambia, Senegal, Mauritania, and West Africa.
Research by Greenpeace Africa found the amount of fish extracted from the region by industrial vessels to be ground up for use in agriculture and aquaculture could feed 33 million people each year.
It found more than half a million tonnes of small pelagic fish – species living in the upper reaches of the open ocean – are taken from the region annually.
As well as farming, fishmeal and fish oil are also commonly used in dietary supplements, pet food, and cosmetics.
West Africa’s production of fishmeal and fish oil has grown 10-fold in the past decade from 13,000 tonnes in 2010 to more than 170,000 tonnes in 2019, the research found.
However, Greenpeace, working with Netherlands-based organization Changing Markets, found the industry is causing devastation among coastal communities in The Gambia, Mauritania, and Senegal.
They said over-extraction is placing millions of people at risk of food insecurity and putting local, small-scale fishers and those involved in smoking and drying the catch out of work.
Processing plants generating fishmeal and fish oil have also been blamed for a sharp rise in air pollution and contaminating waterways close to their sites.
Aquaculture production was worth $263.6 billion (£185.8 billion) in 2018, the research found, and almost a fifth of the world’s total catch of wild fish is processed into fishmeal and fish oil.
The report, Feeding a Monster: How European animal feed industries are stealing food from west African communities, found 70 percent of all Mauritanian fish oil exports went to the EU in 2019.
Europe’s four largest aquafeed companies reported combined sales of $3.3 billion (£2.3 billion) in 2017.
Globally, 69 percent of fishmeal and 75 percent of fish oil is used for aquafeed to produce farmed fish, such as salmon and trout.
Currently, half of all fish consumed worldwide each year is farmed, the research found, with that figure expected to rise to 60% by 2030.
A large proportion of the remaining fishmeal is used in agriculture, predominantly for pig feed.
Greenpeace Africa and Changing Markets are now calling for a 50 percent reduction in industrial fishing in the region to allow stocks to recover.
They want to see tighter, well-enforced regulation in both West Africa and the EU to prevent over-exploitation in the future and to stop unsustainably sourced fishmeal and oil products from entering the EU market.
The two organizations call for a ban on fish fit for human consumption being used for fishmeal and oil and for small-scale local fishers and processors to be given a formal legal status to protect their rights to their fisheries.
Greenpeace Africa and Changing Markets also want to see EU-registered fleets barred from fishing in the West Africa region unless a comprehensive management scheme to protect fish stocks is put in place.
Fishers in India, Vietnam, and The Gambia, many of them working in the fishmeal and oil industry, reported to researchers from Changing Markets said they were already witnessing the collapse of key fish stocks.
Some admitted that they were likely to be the last generation involved in fisheries, the researchers said.
“The fishmeal and fish oil industry, as well as all governments and companies supporting them, are basically robbing local populations of livelihoods and food in contradiction with international commitments on sustainable development, poverty alleviation, food security, and gender equality,” Greenpeace Africa senior campaigner Dr. Ibrahime Cisse said.
Changing Markets campaigns manager, Alice Delemare Tangpuori said: “European aquafeed companies and retailers can no longer ignore this major human rights and environmental issue. Now is the time to rethink supply chains and rapidly phase out the use of wild-caught fish in farmed fish and other animals, to preserve these fish populations for future generations.”
with PA Wires