Blue Empire: the Norwegian salmon industry consumes 2.5% of all wild fish caught globally

Norwegian salmon industry’s voracious appetite for wild fish is driving loss of livelihoods and malnutrition in Africa

A new report by Feedback and a coalition of West African and Norwegian organisations, Blue Empire: How the Norwegian salmon industry extracts nutrition and undermines livelihoods in West Africa, reveals that every year, nearly 2 million tonnes of wild fish are extracted from the ocean to feed Norwegian farmed salmon. These wild fish are used to produce fish oil, a key ingredient in farmed salmon feed. Demand for fish oil from Norway’s huge salmon farming industry is contributing to loss of livelihoods and malnutrition in the Global South, including West African nations The Gambia, Senegal and Mauritania.

Feedback has calculated that the Norwegian salmon farming industry’s ‘feed footprint’ is equivalent to 2.5% of global marine fisheries catch. The report’s authors also estimate that Norway’s annual output of farmed salmon is one-quarter (27%) lower than the volume of wild fish required to produce the fish oil used in Norwegian farmed salmon feed.

The Norwegian industry’s plans to more than triple farmed salmon production to 5 million tonnes by 2050 would create demand for over three times as much wild-caught fish compared to 2020. Despite public sustainability pledges, salmon and feed producers’ take-up of alternative ingredients to replace wild-caught fish in feed remains minimal.

A significant share of the fish oil used in Norwegian salmon farming is imported from Northwest Africa, a region facing acute food insecurity. Feedback has calculated that the fish sourced from fishing grounds off the coast of West Africa to supply fish oil to the Norwegian salmon farming industry in 2020 could have provided up to 4 million people in the region with a year’s supply of fish.

Fish food pellets - photo used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

Norway is the world’s biggest producer of farmed salmon, with Norwegian companies occupying eleven out of the top 20 slots in the list of global producers of farmed salmon.

Norway is also one of the main suppliers of fish to the UK market. In 2022, Norway accounted for 44% of the UK’s salmon consumption and Norwegian farmed salmon is widely available to UK consumers in high street supermarkets including Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Lidl and ASDA and food service outlets such as Wagamama.

Four big feed producers, MOWI, Skretting, Cargill and Biomar, supply almost all of the feed used in Norwegian salmon farming and all source fish oil from Northwest Africa. In 2020, one-quarter of the total volume of fish oil sourced from West Africa by Norwegian companies was purchased by MOWI: it sourced 5,100 tonnes of fish oil from Mauritania in 2020, which Feedback calculates was produced from 28,300 tonnes of fish. A further 17,000 tonnes of fish oil were sourced by Skretting, Cargill and BioMar from FAO 34, the major fishing area located off the west coast of Africa.

Norway’s salmon industry has become one of the country’s most important export industries, second only to oil and gas production. Although many of Norway’s farmed salmon producers claim to be making a positive contribution to global food security, their business model involves selling to high- income markets where protein and micronutrient requirements are already met.

The small fish targeted by the feed ingredient industry contain key nutrients – such as iron, zinc, and calcium – vital for nutrition in West Africa, where more than half of the female population suffer from anaemia. This is happening at a time when hunger is on the rise across sub-Saharan Africa a region severely impacted by lack of micronutrient availability. In 2020, the number of undernourished people in the region rose to 274 million, with 84% of people unable to afford a healthy diet. Fish consumption in Senegal alone declined by 50% in the 10 years between 2009-2018, driven by a reduction in the availability of small pelagic fish.

Skretting Averøy - photo used under the Creative Commons License 4.0

Natasha Hurley, Director of Campaigns at Feedback said: “While salmon companies claim their ‘blue revolution’ will contribute to global food security by feeding the world, the rapid expansion of industrial aquaculture is fuelling a modern-day colonialism, or food imperialism. Despite mounting hunger and malnutrition in West African countries, corporate sustainability initiatives are failing to protect West African communities from hunger and malnutrition linked to the voracious appetite of the salmon farming industry for wild fish.”

Marie Suzanna Traore, Executive Secretary of RAMPAO said, “Along the West African coast, small-scale fishing is the only means of subsistence for Indigenous communities. The big boats that supply the fishmeal and fish-oil industry with fish caught in African waters, to the detriment of these communities, undermine their human dignity.”

Mika Samba Diop of the Sub-Regional Fisheries Commission (SRFC) said, “In Mauritania, round sardinella catches dropped by 66% between 2020 and 2021. In Senegal, they dropped by 86% and in Gambia by 16% over the same period. Unfair competition from fish meal factories, which offer more money for catches, has resulted in many women who process small pelagic fish losing their jobs. The overexploitation of fish stocks has led to a drastic reduction in small-scale fishers’ incomes and local fish consumption of fish. For example, in The Gambia, annual per capita consumption of fish has gone from 15kg in 2020 to only 8kg in 2021.”

Dr Aliou Ba senior oceans campaign manager for Greenpeace Africa said, "This is big business stripping life from our oceans, and depriving our fishing communities of their livelihoods. The science is clear, it will soon be too late. They must stop now. These industries established in West Africa use fish to produce fish meal and fish oil to feed animals in Europe and Asia while the African population needs this fish to feed themselves."

Elise Åsnes, leader of Spire said, "Norwegian politics on food security must be coordinated at home and abroad. We cannot have a Norwegian salmon industry based off the use of food resources of other food insecure countries. What this report shows is just another way of taking the food out of the hands of poor countries."

Feedback and its partners are calling on the Norwegian government to:

  • Halt the growth of Norway’s salmon farming sector.
  • Require full and mandatory transparency on feed sourcing at each stage of the aquaculture supply chain.
  • Ensure the domestic farmed salmon industry does not undermine its global development goals.

It is also calling on corporations, including feed manufacturers and salmon producers to:

  • Disclose transparently, consistently and in detail aquafeed sourcing volumes, locations and species used.
  • Stop sourcing fish meal and fish oil (or products dependent on FMFO) from locations where its production is driving food-feed competition and exacerbating food insecurity, especially vulnerable West African countries.
  • End the use of whole wild caught fish in feed.