Fish oil group warns of lower omega-3 levels in salmon

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Farmed fish are being fed less fish oil and more vegetable oil, says IFFO, altering omega-3 levels in their flesh
Farmed fish are being fed less fish oil and more vegetable oil, says IFFO, altering omega-3 levels in their flesh

Related tags: Fish oil, Omega-3 fatty acid, Epa

Omega-3 levels in farmed salmon - one of the major contributors of dietary fatty acids – are dropping due to changes in fish feed, a global industry group has warned.

Fish oil is being replaced by vegetable oil in fish feed, according to the International Fishmeal and Fish Oil Organization (IFFO), which is lowering the omega-3 content of the farmed salmon that ends up on dinner plates.

The replacement is occurring because of pressure on sustainable fish oil supplies – an issue that has been exacerbated this year by the closing of the anchovy fishery​ in Peru due to adverse weather conditions.

The fishery is the biggest source of fish oils for food and feed in a global market of about 1 million tonnes for food and 5m for feed.

IFFO is warning fish retailers and producers to ensure salmon is correctly labelled regarding its omega-3 EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) content.

“As an industry, it is important to ensure that nutritional levels in farmed fish are clearly communicated to consumers,” ​said Andrew Mallison, IFFO director general.

IFFO operates a B2B certification for fish factories that employs independent assessors to affirm sustainability after a typical 2-year assessment. Part of that is demonstrating sustainable supply from some of the biggest fish oil fisheries including the Peruvian fishery, Alaskan Pollock, Blue Whiting in the UK, Iceland and Norway and Gulf menhaden in the US.

Sourcing shifts

The Peruvian fishery supplies about 70% of the world’s EPA and DHA used in human nutrition. The low numbers of fish were attributed to the effect of an El Nino event, a periodic hemispheric weather phenomenon caused by a Kelvin wave, a huge mass of warm water that moves into surface waters of the eastern Pacific.   

Other sources are being turned to meet the shortfall including menhaden fished off the eastern and southern coasts of the US; krill, which is harvested in the South Atlantic near Antarctica; and oil from Alaskan pollock, which is caught in the Bering Sea.

Further pressure has been placed on the fish oil supply chain by the increasing popularity of omega-3 imbued functional foods, food supplements and drugs, a market estimated to be worth in the vicinity of €20bn.

The London-based group has issued a video about the matter.

Mallison added: “In making this video, we hope that both retailers and consumers look closely at the nutritional content of the salmon that we eat.”

Harry B Rice, PhD, VP of regulatory & scientific affairs at the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED), agreed less fish oil was being used in fish feed.

"As a result, we've seen a decrease in the levels of EPA and DHA in farmed salmon. If consumers enjoy farmed salmon, they just need to know that it's not the rich source of EPA and DHA that it used to be. Throughout the week, they should consume additional servings of other fatty fish and/or take a supplement."

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends adults consume 250 mg of EPA-DHA per day.

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