A study by Canadian researchers shows that four countries in Southeast Asia have diverted almost 40 million tons of fish to fishmeal production over the past six decades, rather than make all that seafood available for human consumption.
After looking at the total amount of fish landed by industrial fisheries in these countries versus production of small-scale fisheries and omitting the amount of fish destined for fishmeal, researchers from the University of British Columbia’s Sea Around Us program noticed that artisanal and subsistence fisheries provided more fish for human consumption during the entire second half of the 20th century.
Some argue that production of fishmeal supports food security because it is used to feed livestock and aquaculture fish.
But Lydia Teh, the lead author of the study published in Frontiers in Marine Science, said it is very unlikely that the practice can continue for a long time, as it relies on extraction of massive amounts of fish using methods that destroy entire ecosystems and don’t give them enough time to recover.
“Using fishmeal in aquaculture, for example, is not ecologically sustainable because we are still relying on wild caught fish as an input for farmed fish, so producing more farmed fish as a solution to food security does not lessen the pressure on wild caught fish,” Teh said.
The dramatic increase of fishing pressure by industrial fleets in this area caused a fall in coastal fish stocks in the 1990s to just one-tenth of their levels in the mid-1960s. Since they cannot travel long distances to fish in remote areas, small-scale harvesters are the most affected by such activities, according to Teh.
Researchers reported that in Thailand the small-scale harvesters were able to catch up to eight times as much fish in the 1980s as in the 2000s, while in Vietnam they perceived that fish catch decreased by over 40 percent over the span of the 2000s.
Overall, the Sea Around Us research team concluded that the small-scale fleets used to be responsible for 80 percent of the four countries’ total catch in the mid 1960s and by 2013 that number declined to 35 percent.
The study, “Who Brings in the Fish? The Relative Contribution of Small-Scale and Industrial Fisheries to Food Security in Southeast Area” is available online at https://doi.org/10.3389/fmars.2018.00044.