Are omega-3 oils sustainable?
GOED believes that protecting our oceans and natural resources is paramount. Maintaining our oceans is not only good environmental stewardship, but also ensures sustainable growth for the omega-3 industry as a whole.
Fortunately, most of the fisheries from which fish or other marine omega-3 oils are sourced have either been certified—or are currently pursuing certification—by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). Other fisheries are certified by Friend of the Sea, another respected certifying group. Several GOED member companies have also achieved MarinTrust certification, which certifies that their marine ingredients are responsibly sourced and produced.
In many cases, individual fisheries have their own sustainability monitoring bodies. For example, in Peru, the fishery for Peruvian anchovy is monitored by a scientific body called IMARPE, while the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) oversees the krill fishery and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game oversees the salmon and pollock fisheries.
Progress as an industry
In 2020, GOED and its 180+ member companies resolved to enhance the environmental, social and governance-related outcomes of our value chain on Earth's biosphere, the global economy and human health. The journey began with a survey of our member companies, measuring their general sustainability posture and plans for the future. Encouragingly, we found that more than 50% of members either had a formal sustainability strategy or were actively working on one.
Empowered by the knowledge from the survey, we kick-started a five-year (2020-2025) process that will culminate in an annual aggregate benchmarking of our sector and a yearly set of ESG recommendations for companies in different spots along the omega-3 value chain.
In 2023, we commissioned a “horizon scan” report from sustainable food consultancy Tasting the Future to research and explain more than 20 environmental, social, or governance trends that will become increasingly important to our category.
GOED member companies can also now participate in our Sustainability Committee, a monthly educational venue for companies that want to start, enhance or celebrate their sustainability journeys.
Omega-3 Sustainability, by Species
The majority of oil found in fish oil supplements comes from Peruvian anchovy. This fishery is monitored by a scientific body, IMARPE, which regularly conducts sonar surveys of the anchovy biomass and sets quotas accordingly. In Peru there are two fishing seasons per year and in the last several few years, no fishing was allowed during several of those seasons to protect the spawning and juvenile biomass.
Salmon is both consumed as seafood as well as made into omega-3 supplements. Both are rich source of omega-3s fatty acids. In the case of salmon oil, the source is the salmon fish heads, which are discards from the largely the US salmon seafood industry.
Salmon fishing occurs in the waters of the US state of Alaska, and is governed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which has strictly monitored and regulated fishing activity since Alaska joined the United States.
Also sourced from Alaskan waters is pollock, which is consumed as seafood or turned into omega-3 oils for dietary supplements. The pollock fishery is MSC-certified.
Most commonly sold as seafood or in the form of cod liver oil, the source of this omega-3 comes from Barents Sea. This fishery is MSC-certified.
Krill is harvested in the Antarctic Ocean and the fishery is overseen by CCAMLR, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. The total krill biomass is estimated to be between 125 million to 750 million tons. In the area approved for harvesting, the biomass is estimated at over 60 million tons and the allowable quota is 9% of that.
The largest krill manufacturer, Aker Biomarine, harvests 1/3 of 1% of the allowable quota. Aker is MSC-certified and funds ongoing research projects with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
Recently many more algae companies have been developing EPA and DHA algae products, which are totally sustainable and scalable as demand grows.