Driving change in South East Asian fisheries and fishmeal supply

A new study focuses on Thailand and Vietnam, two of South East Asia’s largest producers of wild and farmed seafood which support large trawl and purse seine mixed fisheries producing fish for food and feed.
Management of fisheries in the South East Asian (SEA) region has long attracted world-wide criticism for poor practices. Greater understanding of such fisheries is therefore vital, in order to bring about reform and an end to overfishing.
The Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA) and IFFO, the Marine Ingredients Organization commissioned a report to generate insights into fisheries in SEA in the year 2017. Consultant, Duncan Leadbitter, of Fish Matter Pty, compiled the study. As part of the work, he collated data for a period of about 10 months, relying on both publicly available information and in-country sources.
The highlights of the reports are:

  • Thailand and Vietnam invested heavily in developing their fisheries from the 1960s through the 1980s, which significantly increased fishing effort.
  • The report focused on two of South East Asia’s largest producers of wild and farmed seafood which support large trawl and purse seine mixed fisheries producing fish for food and feed. Thailand has far more information available on its fisheries and aquaculture than Vietnam.
  • The fishmeal sector along with the aquaculture sector has experienced rapid growth, as low value species from trawl catches were used in the fast-growing aquaculture sector, especially for shrimp.
  • Fish for fishmeal represent a small component of the catch, which is generally focused on providing fish for human food. Little of the catch is discarded or wasted, and it supports large numbers of jobs in fishing, processing and aquaculture.
  • Poor fisheries management resulted in too many fishing vessels, overfishing, zero net profits and a lack of incentives to fish legally.
  • A consequence of excessive fishing pressure has been a major decline in larger fish and slower growing species, in favour of smaller, faster growing species. Initially this led to increased catches, but ongoing overfishing has led to an overall decline in the catch.
  • Fisheries management in developed and higher latitude countries focuses on selective fishing and maximising the production of a small number of target species. This approach does not work well in a tropical Asian context, where the combination of high species diversity and efficient use of the catch requires new and different management approaches.
  • The government of Thailand has developed and implemented a comprehensive set of fishery management plans for the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea fisheries. These address the need to cut fishing effort, improve enforcement, increase mesh size in trawls and rebuild fish stocks.
  • The low value fish directed into the fishmeal supply chain would benefit from better handling and refrigerated storage, which would result in a higher quality fishmeal.
  • Market pressure from processors, aquaculture producers and exporters can have a positive effect on encouraging a transition to responsible production. This approach has worked in the human food sector for two decades and is well established.
  • The IFFO RS program has developed a system for managing Fishery Improvement Projects (FIPs) and is experiencing growth in engagement with FIPs either approved or in development in Thailand and Vietnam and other parts of the world.
  • Management improvements are needed, especially in Vietnam. Market based involvement in Thailand could usefully provide support for the implementation of management plans.

Wider opportunities in Thailand
Whilst the main fishery producing raw material for fish meal is currently engaged in a FIP, other fisheries producing raw material include:

  • Demersal and pelagic trawl sector on the Andaman coast producing around 54,000 MT per year of feed-fish for reduction, compared to 240,000 MT from the Gulf of Thailand.  This fishery is engaged with WWF on a Fishery Conservation Project.
  • Purse seine sector in the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea for the capture of a wide variety of small pelagics, neritic tunas and anchovies. Fish is destined for both food use – canning, fish sauce etc, and for fishmeal.  Thailand has IFFO RS approvals for small pelagics by-products including goldstripe sardinella and Indian mackerel, and the kawakawa, frigate and bullet neritic tunas, and longtail tuna.

Wider opportunities in Vietnam
Vietnam is a larger producer of fishmeal than Thailand, and second only to China in Asia. Its large animal feed sector is a major user of fishmeal.
Vietnam requires some strategic thought as it provides a range of opportunities for IFFO, as well as IFFO RS and GAA. The country is a major producer of shrimp and pangasius, and shrimp has now overtaken salmon in terms of aquaculture production.
Source: Report on Driving change in South East Asian trawl fisheries, fishmeal supply, and aquafeed