Report: Aquaculture industry needs to improve sustainability

What is being done to prevent that Norwegian salmon production undermines food security in West Africa? The Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara has challenged Norway's 40 largest aquaculture companies. 

Published 24 May 2022

It's been called the 'salmon adventure' - the enormous growth of fish farms along the Norwegian coast that export salmon worldwide. The industry generates wealth and employment in Norway. But does the industry care if the population in some of the world's poorest countries become even poorer?

When the question of the sustainability of the import of feed to the aquaculture industry was raised in the Norwegian Parliament in 2019, the then Minister of Fisheries Harald T. Nesvik stated that the industry "does not contribute to depletion of ecosystems or threaten food security in other countries.” There is reason to question such a conclusion and investigate whether Norwegian fish farming companies contribute to undermining food security in countries from which we import fish feed. 

The Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara today publishes a report addressing two main topics. Both concern Norwegian salmon production, and they are rarely covered in Norwegian media. 

Download the report “Feeding off West Africa” here. See Norwegian version here

The first is sustainability and food security in West Africa, which is one of the areas where fish feed producers buy raw materials from for the fish feed. The second is how the fish farming companies deal with the risk that Norwegian salmon’s feed may originate in the waters outside occupied Western Sahara. Such trade would conflict with international law and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs' advice to refrain from doing so.

This report challenges Norway's 40 largest fish farming companies on issues related to sustainability and transparency in the supply chain. Twenty-three of the companies responded to our questionnaire. Several companies reported that they buy fishmeal originating in Mauritania and refer to various certification schemes for sustainable feed production. However, these certification schemes have not been able to prevent the depletion of fish stocks in West Africa, nor have they prevented the negative consequences this has for the local population.

Reports from the UN organisation FAO and international civil society organizations have thoroughly documented how the exploitation of fish stocks in West Africa for global feed production can have detrimental consequences for food security, jobs, and local markets.

The fishmeal and fish oil production in Mauritania contributes to undermining food security in West Africa, threatening women’s jobs in the processing industry, and negatively impacting the environment for those living near factories. When Norwegian salmon farmers use feed that contains fish oil from Mauritania, this ultimately means that we prioritize the production of salmon for relatively wealthy consumers over both local food security and local jobs in West Africa.

None of the companies that responded to the questionnaire have specific guidelines in place to ensure that fish feed does not originate from occupied Western Sahara. Regardless of such guidelines, fishmeal and fish oil production in Mauritania also affect fishery resources in occupied Western Sahara because many fish stocks migrate along the West African coast. A recent shift to using sardines in feed production in Mauritania could deplete the fish stocks in Western Sahara's waters and deprive the Sahrawi people of their legitimate resources.

Considering that feed production in Mauritania also has severe consequences for food security throughout the West African region, we recommend that Norwegian fish farming companies should not buy feed originating in Mauritania. 

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