The UK’s proposal to fully close the Dogger Bank to sandeel fishing by EU vessels is set to have profound effects on the aquafeed and salmon industries. Alongside the industry already experiencing a shortage fishmeal and fish oil shortage, combined with the closure of Peruvian anchovy fisheries, the outcome is expected to be a significant surge in global fishmeal and fish oil prices.
According to European Fishmeal and Fish Oil Producers (EFFOP), the decision by the UK authorities appears to be driven by conservation goals– but will place significant strains on European aquaculture, intensifying challenges within the global food security landscape, with broader implications for the European feed industry and food security.
Sandeel populations are categorised into seven management areas. The proposed bans would extend to a complete closure of British waters to sandeel fishing in the management areas 1 and 4. The response from the EU to the British consultation on spatial management closures emphasises the importance of a science-driven and proportional approach in managing sandeel fisheries.
‘Regrettably, it seems that EU responses are not taken into consideration even though stakeholders have a proven record of sustainable management of the Sandeel fishery while protecting the marine environment,’ an EFFOP representative commented.
Current management relies on scientific advice from ICES, which is considered authoritative for EU fisheries. In addition, environmental certifications such as the MSC and MarinTrust have have previously endorsed the sandeel industry, confirming environmentally sound operations with minimal ecological impact.
ICES, MSC and MarinTrust have all emphasised the importance of precautionary measures in sandeel fisheries, including catch quotas based not only on maximum sustainable yield but also on modeling to safeguard the broader ecosystem. According to EFFOP, adhering to this advice demonstrates a commitment to responsible and sustainable fishing practices.
‘While the closure of designated UK waters has a strong sentiment towards the conservation of seabirds, it’s vital to strike an objective balance by considering both economic and ecological impacts. Forage fish fisheries may affect prey availability, but the limitations of the available scientific evidence underscore the challenge of fully understanding the effects of fisheries closures on predator demography. For guillemot, razorbill, and puffin for example, A recent study showed there’s actually no clear evidence of negative or positive effects from forage fisheries or their closures,’ EFFOP’s representative points out.
‘Within Europe, over 99% of the total UK and EU value landed from UK waters has been landed by EU vessels, mainly Denmark where historical records demonstrate annual landings of approximately 81,000 tonnes of sandeel. This underscores the profound historical, socio-economic, and ecological significance of this region and emphasizes the need for a delicate balance to ensure the preservation of both ecological stability and the socio-economic aspects associated with sandeel fishing.’
EFFOP states that this possible upcoming closure in UK waters is poised to have a significant impact on both EU fisheries and European aquaculture production in countries such as Norway, Scotland, and others, as European sandeel fishing has historically been pivotal for the global fishmeal market, supporting industries reliant on fish-based products.
‘An abrupt cessation could disrupt supply chains, impact jobs, and set off a chain reaction affecting local economies,’ states EFFOP, which identifies Area 1 as being critical for landings, constituting 85% of sandeel landings since 2015.
‘Of all the raw material used in EU fishmeal and fish oil production since 2015, 11% of it comes from sandeel landings sourced from Areas 1 and 4. This translates directly to 167,000 and 46,100 tonnes of fishmeal and fish oil – or 19,500 and 5,100 tonnes of fishmeal and fish oil per year on average.’
EFFOP describes the production of fishmeal and fish oil as forming a cornerstone of the global fishmeal market and supporting various industries.
‘The potential loss of this vital fishmeal production source is highly concerning, particularly due to its unprecedented impact on food security, especially concerning farmed salmon production which has a huge role in the growing demand for sustainable protein,’ EFFOP points out.
‘Fishmeal and fish oil are vital components in aquaculture feeds, Fishmeal and fish oil are essential sources of limited nutrients such as methionine and the omega-3 fatty acids, EPA, and DHA. The decline in fishmeal and fish oil availability across Europe because of the closures of British waters to the sandeel fishery is expected to disrupt the supply chain for farmed salmon, posing a challenge to European and British food security.’
‘We can expect a significant surge in global fishmeal and fish oil prices from the closure of the sandeel fishery in UK waters amid an existing fishmeal and fish oil shortage that has been exacerbated by closure of the Peruvian anchovy fisheries due to the El Niño weather phenomenon,’ EFFOP states.
‘The UK’s decision to fully close the Dogger Bank to EU sandeel fishing is a significant conservation measure with far-reaching implications. While prioritising conservation, this action triggers concerns about potential disruptions in fishmeal supply, essential for aquafeed production and the salmon industry. It underscores the necessity for a science-based, collaborative strategy to balance sustainable Sandeel fishing, mitigate ecological impacts, and maintain adequate prey for the marine food chain, as is in current ICES advice. The historical importance of Danish sandeel fishing underscores the potential economic ramifications for EU fisheries, with a looming threat to European food security, especially in the context of farmed salmon supply.’