Omega-3s and sustainability: the truth behind the headlines26 April 2013
Listen to the consumer media and you could be forgiven for thinking that the popularity of omega-3s is largely to blame for fisheries around the world being on the verge of collapse. The reality, however, is very different. Ellen Schutt, communications director at the Global Organisation of EPA and DHA Omega-3s, goes in search of the truth.
According to a Frost & Sullivan report commissioned by the Global Organisation of EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED), the global omega-3 market in 2011 was worth $1.86 billion, with 104,673t of oils shipped worldwide. The market is projected to continue to grow at double-digit levels over the next five years.
To understand the sustainability issue in the world of omega-3s, it is important to first understand the sources of omega-3 oil. Currently, almost 80% of it comes from anchovy oil in Peru and Chile, so the sustainability of this fishery addresses the vast majority of the omega-3 market.
The fishery has evolved over the years from being a primary supplier of fishmeal to serving the more lucrative fish oil market and demand continues to increase. The appeal of anchovy as an omega-3 source is the high concentration of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in the fish, which continues to make it attractive to global producers.
Focus on Peru and Chile
As the world spotlight has focused on the Peruvian fishery, the fishery has responded by implementing environmental and sustainability programmes designed to guarantee its long-term health. The fishery is overseen by PRODUCE, a government organisation that is advised by scientific institution the Peruvian Sea Institute (IMARPE), which monitors the stock and recommends fishery management strategies to maintain it. This includes limiting the amount of the catch allowable each season, if necessary, to maintain a sustainable harvest, which PRODUCE does on a regular basis.
According to Sustainable Fisheries Partnership's FishSource website, which provides fisheries with sustainability scores, the region is doing the right thing in terms of initiatives aimed at compliance, precautionary management, and protecting the current and future health of the fishery. Peru maintains a large northern fishery totally within its boundaries and works together with Chile on another fishery in the southern part of the country. Chile also has two additional anchovy fishing areas.
While a well-maintained fishery with a sustainable harvest plan is important, the reality is that as the omega-3 market continues to grow, especially with the introduction of more highly concentrated pharmaceutical products, the actual amount of anchovy harvested for omega-3 markets is going to reach the sustainable limits that the fishery produces today.
The good news is, there are plenty of other options when it comes to replacing the anchovy supply base. There are a variety of oils available from other fish sources such as cod, tuna, salmon and krill, and many other developing fisheries.
In terms of non-fish options, a rapidly developing algae market promises a plethora of new products over the next 12-18 months and further out on the development horizon are products based on yeast or genetically modified plants that are high in EPA and DHA. Each of these commercial markets in and of itself is a multimillion-dollar business and has the potential to supply a large part of the continually growing market.
As we look at the future of omega-3s in terms of sustainability, it's clear that there are many directions the industry can take to maintain the health of the business as well as the health of the ocean.