Our Fish, Notre Poisson

Tackling industrial fishmeal and fish oil production in West Africa

Fish is a staple food for many communities around the world. However, the growing appetite for farmed fish in the Global North is driving the demand for fishmeal and fish oil (FMFO) production, which is having a detrimental impact on the ocean and communities in the Global South.

Our campaign, Our Fish, Notre Poisson, is a collaborative project with partners in Europe and West Africa, that shines a spotlight on this huge, but often overlooked issue. We’re calling for an end to whole, wild-caught fish being taken from local communities and diverted towards farmed fish production elsewhere.

What's the problem?

Currently, feed for salmon and other farmed fish requires huge quantities of wild-caught fish in the form of fishmeal and fish oil (FMFO). Around one-fifth of the world’s annual marine catch is processed into FMFO every year, most of which is used to feed farmed fish and other animal livestock.

The global FMFO industry has expanded into West Africa, with the number of FMFO factories quintupling in the past decade. Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of these wild fish are being taken across the West African coastline, processed and exported to feed farmed salmon and other animal livestock elsewhere in Europe, Norway and Asia. In Mauritania, fish oil exports surpassed 75,000 tonnes and fishmeal reached 121,000 tonnes in 2020, putting the country in the top 10 producers worldwide. This production model creates food-feed competition: where fish that could be caught and eaten locally in the Global South are being used to feed the fish consumed by the Global North.

This is a huge cause for concern:

  • Taking jobs. Catching, processing, and selling wild-caught fish has been a vital source of jobs and income for many people across the West African region for decades, and a critical part of their identities and traditions. By taking and exporting thousands of tonnes of wild-caught fish each year, the FMFO industry is leaving nothing left for local people to sell. 
  • Threatening food sovereignty. Diverting fish from coastal communities impacts these communities’ ability to feed themselves. An international market that favours feeding the salmon of the Global North with the fish of the Global South is furthering dietary imperialism – a form of wealth extraction where the tastes of the privileged few control the resources and food production of the rest of the world.
  • Inefficient and wasteful. It is a hugely inefficient use of nutritious food-grade fish that could be eaten directly by humans. Each year, over half a million tonnes of fish are caught and processed into FMFO to feed farmed fish and livestock: the same amount could feed over 33 million people. In Mauritania, 90% of the fish used to produce FMFO are fresh, whole fish.
  • Emigration. Many people are being forced to seek jobs and sources of income elsewhere, leaving behind friends and families, and often taking forms of transport which put their lives at significant risk.
  • Destroying the ocean. The production of FMFO is plundering fish populations through overfishing, disrupting the delicate balance of marine ecosystems, and polluting local water systems. Eating wild fish instead of using it as feed would allow nearly 4 million tonnes of fish to be left in the sea.

What's the solution?

To protect fish populations, unique marine ecosystems, and create an equitable food system which feeds everyone now and for years to come, we need a transformative shift within the FMFO industry and its affiliated sectors to ensure better regulation of the industry’s activities across the West African region, and ultimately end its use of fish fit for human consumption.

By exposing the reality of the production of farmed fish and amplifying the voices of coastal communities and those working in the fish sector in Senegal, Mauritania, and Gambia, we aim to increase pressure on aquafeed companies who source from West Africa (and associated aquaculture companies) and hold them accountable for their sustainability promises.

The projects collaborative partners: Regional Network of West African Marine Protected Areas (RAMPAO), Greenpeace Africa, the West African Association for the Development of Artisanal Fisheries (WADAF), the Sub-Regional Fisheries Commission (SRFC), the Regional Partnership for Marine and Coastal Conservation in West Africa (PRCM), and Lancaster University, and in close collaboration with grassroots organisations representing coastal communities across the region.

This work is made possible through the support of Oceans 5, a sponsored project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.

Check out the sister campaign, Fishy Business, which tackles this food-feed issue from the perspective of salmon farming in Europe.


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