Report: Key fishmeal ecosystems could collapse by 2100

melvinlee | Dreamstime.com

Climate change and fishmeal overfishing put the East and South China Seas on the brink of collapse

Climate change, coupled with overfishing driven by growing demand for fishmeal, could collapse fish populations in the East and South China Seas, which could put further pressure on already tight fishmeal markets.

Combined, catches from these two fisheries generated a value of $22.8 billion in 2018, with a growing proportion of the regions’ income tied to fishmeal production, according to a report by the ADM Capital Foundation in Hong Kong. Kong. But if current trends continue, the amount of fish available for fishmeal production in Southeast Asia could drop significantly.

The South China Sea could lose up to 6.4 million metric tons of fish biomass, worth $11.4 billion in income for fishermen, by 2100 if climate change continues and that overfishing continues to increase, according to the report. The East China Sea, in better shape than the south, could see an increase in fish biomass by 2100 – but only if fishing is brought back within sustainable limits.

“One of the key recommendations we have in terms of fighting forage-grade peaches is that the industry start thinking now about alternative sources of protein and start moving away from reliance on food-based products. fish,” said Ashley Bang, a data scientist at the ADM Capital Foundation and one of the report’s authors.

Some alternatives such as insect meal and algal oil are already commercially viable, according to Kevin M. Fitzsimmons, who studies global fisheries as a professor of environmental science at the University of Arizona. However, the relatively high price of these ingredients has prevented them from supplanting fishmeal and fish oil as food ingredients. Instead, new alternatives have primarily allowed the aquaculture industry to increase production while spreading the supply of fishmeal – which has remained relatively constant – over a larger number of production facilities.

“So I expect the demand for fishmeal and fish oil to stay flat for some time,” Fitzsimmons said. “Even as more and more replacements come on board, they are sucked in and used in all new production.”

Fishermen too have been caught up in this cycle. Demand for fishmeal from the growing aquaculture sector has allowed some fishermen to sell anything from endangered species and juveniles of species that would fetch higher prices if left to mature. , because they can be ground up and sold into a homogeneous fishmeal product, Bang said. At the same time, Fitzsimmons explained, overfishing and environmental degradation have already made larger, more valuable fish harder to catch, pushing more anglers to resort to selling whatever they can catch. fishmeal processors.

Absent a major shift in feed markets, such as a sudden decrease in the cost of alternative protein ingredients, Fitzsimmons and Bang agreed that a collaborative policy among multiple regional governments – already underway – is likely needed to break the cycle.

“It’s a really serious problem,” Fitzsimmons said. “It’s a terrible situation where you have a lot of starving families trying to make a living, and it’s extremely difficult to say to those people, sorry, don’t go out and catch those fish, and if you catch them, you won’t you can’t sell them. It’s a difficult situation for any government or NGO.