We’ve heard a lot of concerns about the sustainability of omega-3 fish oil supplements, especially recently. Does the manufacturing of fish oil supplements deplete the ocean’s resources? And what will happen if the demand for fish oil increases, as projected?
People are right to be concerned about purchasing sustainable fish, since overfishing is a big environmental problem. Global catches have been declining since the 1980s, and over the past six decades, many fish species have been driven to (or near) extinction. In addition, the rising temperatures of the ocean are impacting many fish species.
While these are complicated issues, we have good news about our Omega Cure®. Read on to discover why our omega-3 fish oil is derived from sustainably sourced fish, and how our purity standards are something you can count on.
Omega Cure is pure cod liver oil, sourced from wild cod caught off the northwest coast of Norway. We choose this omega-3 source for a variety of reasons:
Omega Cure is not harvested for its sake alone, but as part of a larger industry that fully utilizes its natural resources. Fillets are destined for fine seafood restaurants and seafood stores, and the traditionally less-desirable parts are either ground up to make popular fish cakes (fiskeboller) or animal feed.
Since the 1970s, the Norwegian government has implemented a number of sustainable fishing practices. To ensure the longevity and health of their fishing industry, the Norwegian government sets a max cap on the amount of fish available for harvest every year. If the amount of cod dwindles, the country lowers the max cap to allow the fish to re-populate.
The Norwegian fishing industry also employs other sustainable practices, like:
• Enforcing a ban on discarding caught fish
• Requiring minimum sizes for certain fish species
• Closing off areas where there are large concentrations of undersized fish
• Using special equipment which allows for small fish to escape
• Implementing bycatch rules to reduce bycatches
All of these environmentally-minded efforts ensure that the Norwegian fishing industry is thriving, setting an example for fishing industries around the rest of the world.
In Norway, they have been implementing sustainable fishing practices since the 1970s.
Almost all fish oil capsules are derived from a blend of forage fish, like anchovies, herring, and small mackerel, harvested off the coasts of South America and Western Africa. Many of these fisheries have faced criticism for overfishing, as well as for targeting critical forage species.
The fish oil derived from these forage species is harvested as part of the larger fishmeal industry. Humans consume only 5% of the forage fish caught today, either as food or as omega-3 supplements. The rest gets turned into animal food and feed for fish farms.
Unfortunately, because many fish oils are derived as part this animal feed industry, there is often little quality distinction between the oil destined for human and animal consumption. This issue has raised concerns about the ultimate health and stability of these fish oils. For instance, independent studies have found that the majority of omega-3 supplements on the market exceed the recommended industry oxidation levels at the time of purchase. The lack of quality control at the initial stages of production could help explain why.
A number of fisheries have vowed to make amends on both the sustainability and quality control front. However, it is interesting to note that Peru – a major player in the fish oil supplement industry – recently cancelled a ruling that kept fish oil for human consumption and fish oil for animal feed separated. These types of events strengthen our resolve to provide sustainable fish oil with the lowest oxidation levels on the market today.
For omega-3 supplements not derived from forage fish species, it is also important to check whether the source is farm-raised or wild caught.
Farm-raising carnivorous fish species (like salmon or trout) can end up endangering other species. Because the fishing industry has to catch smaller fish species to feed the farmed fish, this can exacerbate overfishing — especially as the demand for farmed fish grows. Typically, it takes 2-5 kg of smaller, forage fish to feed 1 kg of farm-raised fish.
Fish farming is a growing industry, with more demand for more affordable seafood options, like salmon and shrimp.
Fish farming can negatively affect the nutritional value of the fish, too. A report from the BBC found that, over a five-year period, the omega-3 levels in farmed salmon sank by 50%. The significant reduction stemmed from the industry’s declined use of anchovies and smaller oily fish species in the salmon feed.
Farm fisheries are often also plagued with other issues, like sea lice and diseases. In small enclosures, these diseases can spread rapidly, and have the potential to impact wild populations. Salmon, for example, are typically farmed with ‘open-net’ structures, which allow the passing of fish waste, antibiotics, and excess chemicals into the nearby aquaculture.
At fish farms, it’s also common for genetically-modified products (like yeast) to be used in feed, as well as antibiotics. The World Health Organization considers drug-resistant bacteria as one of the largest growing threats to human health. With 90% of sea water-based bacteria resistant to at least one antibiotic, we should be more concerned — especially because this increased resistance is exacerbated by the trade and consumption of international fish products.
In the face of these health and environmental issues, some fish farms are starting to take sustainability seriously. Some farms have started exploring alternative fish feeds and moving farms to the open ocean, where strong currents can help prevent the build up of waste products. We hope that there will be even more progress made to create sustainable aquaculture solutions in the future. In the meantime, we are committed to using only wild-caught fish in Omega Cure and all of our omega-3 products.
Since krill oil came on the market, there has been a lot of hype about its health benefits, but also significant environmental concerns. In the spring of 2018, a report from Greenpeace indicated that the krill fishing industry was harming the fragile ecosystem of the Antarctic ocean. The report caused some UK health retailers to pull krill oil products off their shelves. While the krill oil industry has said that they are open to working with Greenpeace and other environmental groups, this story is continuing to develop.
Due to concerns of overfishing, scientists have also started to look at plant sources as a means of meeting the increased demand for EPA and DHA omega-3s through genetically modified plants. Genetically-modified foods raise additional questions about bioavailability and long-term safety, even if they do temporarily relieve the burden on the world’s fisheries.
Rather than look to GMOs for the future of omega-3, we at Omega3 Innovations believe that manufacturing fish oil supplements does not need to be environmentally unfriendly – if done right.
If the fish oil industry is going to keep up with the increasing demand for omega-3 in a healthy way, the public will also have to demand that their supplements are produced with the environment in mind. We continuously work with our fish suppliers to ensure that Omega Cure not only provides crucial health benefits, but helps to maintain the oceans for future generations to come.
1. The Directorate of Fisheries and the Norwegian Environment Agency. Fisheries. Environment.no. January 21, 2016.
2. Waldman, John. How Norway and Russia Made A Cod Fishery Live and Thrive. Yale Environment 360. September 18, 2014.
3. Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force. Little Fish, Big Impact: Managing a Crucial Link in Ocean Food Webs. April 2012.
4. Wilcox, Meg. Can Aquaculture Survive Without Forage Fish? Civil Eats. August 16, 2018.
5. Mereghetti, Matilde. Peru Authorities Cancel Troublesome Fish Oil Processing Rules. Undercurrent News. August 10, 2018.
6. Jenkins, David. Are Dietary Recommendations for Fish Oils Sustainable? The Fish Site. Canadian Medical Association Journal. April 13, 2009.
7. Ghosh, Pallab. Omega-3 Oils in Farmed Salmon ‘Halve in Five Years.’ BBC News. October 6, 2016.
8. Walsh, Bryan. Study Says Sea Lice From Farmed Salmon Do Hurt Wild Fish—But the Debate’s Not Over. Time Magazine. August 23, 2011.
9. Taylor, Matthew. Campaigners Call on UK Retailers to Stop Stocking Antarctic Krill Products. The Guardian. March 27, 2018.
10. Gunther, Marc. Can Deepwater Aquaculture Avoid the Pitfalls of Coastal Fish Farms? Yale Environment 360. January 25, 2018.