Pacific Mackerel Stocks That Feed Farmed Salmon In Decline

Farmed salmon, that ubiquitous pink fish decorated with ribbons of fat, can thank the forage fish of the southern Pacific ocean – like anchovy and jack mackerel – for their calorie-rich diet. Indeed more than 5 pounds of jack mackerel typically can go towards raise one pound of farmed salmon.

But that food supply – and the ocean ecosystem that supports it — may be in peril, according to a new report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. According to scientists the ICIJ spoke to, “supertrawler” fishing vessels from Asia, Europe and Latin America have contributed to a 63 percent decline in jack mackerel stocks since 2006. At the current rate of overfishing, the world’s stock of jack mackerel, which is largely located off the coast of Chile, could collapse soon.

“This is the last of the buffaloes,” Daniel Pauly, an oceanographer at the University of British Columbia, told ICIJ. “When they’re gone, everything will be gone … This is the closing of the frontier.”

Concerns about the environmental impacts of feeding and raising farmed salmon are one reason Target has eliminated the product from its stores. Instead, the big-box chain sells wild-caught salmon in all its stores nationwide.

ICIJ says that the Southern Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organization, the organization responsible for managing jack mackerel stocks, has been unable to stop overfishing. Only six countries have ratified an agreement it formulated to protect the fish. The group is holding its annual meeting in Santiago, Chile, this week.

Two Chilean fishing companies are some of the most powerful players in the jack mackerel trade — they control 29.3 percent of the jack mackerel quota set by the Chilean government, ICIF says. And they supply 5.5 percent of the world’s fishmeal.

As NPR’s Kristofer Husted has reported, some scientists are exploring ways to make new fish feed using renewable sources, such as biofuel co-products, poultry by-products, soybeans and so on.

The investigation is the third in ICFJ’s series “Looting the Seas,” which has also looked at the black market in bluefin tuna, and how fishing subsidies in Spain have built up a bloated fleet that is partly responsible for the depletion of Europe’s fish stocks.

It is different now. Yet ICIJ, with the Chilean investigative center CIPER, traced how eight groups with a near monopoly have pressured the government to set quotas above scientific advice. Six of these groups are controlled by powerful families. And, together, the eight of them own rights to 87 percent of Chile’s jack mackerel catch.

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