Responsible salmon farming isn’t just about minimising your impacts in and around the farm itself. Also important is minimising the impact of the feed given to the salmon. 

At ASC our Salmon Standard has several requirements on the responsible sourcing of feed, but it’s such an important issue we are this year launching a standalone Feed Standard, applicable to all ASC certified farms. This will provide unprecedented reassurances about the environmental and social responsible sourcing of feed by ASC farms. But why is this issue so important?

One of the most common criticisms of salmon farming is that because salmon in the wild eat more protein than they produce, farming them is inefficient and ends up increasing pressure on wild stocks of fish that are used in the feed. 

How much wild caught fish does salmon farming use?

Firstly, it’s a good idea to question whether it’s true that salmon farming requires far more fish than it produces. A very recent study looking at this question found that salmon and trout farming are “net neutral” – in other words they produce as much biomass as they use. Of course, this is a complex area and one that should continue to be studied, but it’s certainly the case that the salmon farming industry has worked hard to improve efficiencies and reduce impacts on wild stocks.

This is also true of the wider aquaculture industry, because the amount of wild caught fish used in feed has been falling since the 1990s, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO).  

Some more good news from the FAO: when wild-caught fish is used, it is increasingly from by-products that would have previously been thrown away – up to 35% of fishmeal (as the fish-derived feed ingredient is known) comes from these sources. The FAO says that there is a “clear and downward trend” in the use of fishmeal and fish oil in feeds used by the farmed seafood industry.

How does ASC deal with responsible feed use?

Of course, that still means that when fishmeal or fish oil is used, it could be contributing to overfishing. And when you’re in the supermarket looking at a packet of farmed salmon, you can’t be expected to find out if the farm in question used feed that came from unsustainable sources. 

That’s where the ASC logo comes in. It doesn’t just cover the direct impacts of the fish farm. With our new Feed Standard, all ASC certified farms must use feed with fishmeal or fish oil that can be traced back to a sustainable fishery.

Land-based ingredients

The declining use of fishmeal and fish oil has led to another criticism of farmed salmon – an overreliance on ingredients like soy or palm oil, which have their own well publicised impacts. 

Currently, the impact of aquaculture on land-based ingredients is small compared to other food production sectors – around 4% of the total land-based feed used in animal production ends up in aquaculture according to one study.

Of course, that’s no reason  for complacency, especially as aquaculture is a rapidly growing industry. Which is why we thought carefully about this issue at ASC when developing our new Feed Standard, which is why it requires that all ingredients, whether land or marine, that make up over 1% of a feed must be traceable and responsibly sourced. We share concerns about the unsustainable use of soy, for example, which is why ASC certified salmon farmers (in fact, all ASC certified farmers) must only source their feed from feed mills that can demonstrate they are using soy (or palm oil, or rice, or canola) from sustainable sources. 

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