Fish in – Fish out

The Fish in – Fish out ratios describe the quantity of live fish from small demersal and pelagic fisheries required to produce the amount of fishmeal or fish oil needed to produce a unit of farmed fish/seafood. Its output strongly depends of the method adopted. The two most used methods are: 

  1. Fish In Fish Out Ratio (FIFO);
  2. Forage Fish Dependence Ratio (FFDR);

There has been considerable discussion over recent decades regarding farmed fish and the efficiencies of converting dietary nutrients (i.e. especially fish) into edible food for humans. This discussion has particularly raged around the use of fish oil and fishmeal in salmon diets and a lot of different figures have been quoted for the number of tonnes of wild fish it takes to produce a tonne of farmed salmon (FIFO ratio).

Recently a focus group under the European Aquaculture Advisory Council (AAC) has had the discussion. The intention is to give a clearer picture of the dependency on wild fish per cultured species. For a review of the FIFO ratio and the background for the AAC discussions click here.

Findings from the AAC focus group study were:

  1. No data and figures available from the EU aquaculture sector
  2. Industry and NGO have different methods of calculation the use of fish for feed  

Yield: the amount of fishmeal or fish oil in the diet is calculated back to live fish weight. Which percentages are being used and should this be different per region/fisheries?

IFFO uses 22.5% for FM and at least 4.8% for FO. EUfishmeal (data from their members only) has calculated yields of 20.9 % and 5.2 % based on 2017 numbers, but this reflects primarily species sourced from in NE Atlantic/Baltic/N Sea and the level of trimmings used. FEFAC uses 24 % meal yield worldwide, 5 % oil yield from South America and 7 % oil yield from Europe.  

The aquaculture industry recommends the NGOs to use IFFO’s method – click here. The IFFO argument:

  • It is not possible to split up individual fish and shellfish species/groups because there exists a global market for FM and FO. The aquafeed sector needs to be regarded in its entirety.  
  • Individual aquatic species have different nutritional requirements. There are more than 200 farmed fish species. They all need different macro- and micro-nutrient profiles in their feed. The global FMFO industry supports the production of all these species by providing raw material for feed across the globe. 

From an IFFO perspective splitting the feed requirements into species/groups via the FFDR is meaningless.

FIFO or FFDR is it relevant?

Limits on FFDR/FIFO has been used to argue that an increase in aquaculture production would require increased use of marine ingredients and thereby increase the pressure on wild fish stocks. 

However, no increased fishery has taken place as aquaculture production has increased. On the contrary, fishmeal and fish oil prices have gone up while the fishmeal and fish oil production has been stable because of improved fisheries management and the restriction in quotas. FFDR (limited inclusion of fishmeal or fish oil) does not give any incentive, motivation or effect to improve management of fisheries but rather restrict the opportunity for companies to diversify their product and increase value creation via different inclusion rates of e.g. marine w3 (EPA/DHA).

From the AAC discussion:

The reality is that you can send this message to the media BUT they will keep on asking for FIFO/FFDR. As long as there are no agreed figures on FIFO/FFDR, you have no control on this message to the media and to NGOs that are using FIFO or FFDR.

There is a decreasing proportion of FM and FO within overall aquaculture feed volume:

Source: Fry, J.P. et al., 2016. Environmental health impacts of feeding crops to farmed fish. Environment International, 91, pp.201–214. Available at: