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February 17, 2003

Report: Farm fish eat their wild cousins

OSLO, Norway (Reuters) --Fish farms are a mounting threat to depleted world stocks because more and more wild fish are being fed to their caged cousins, the WWF conservation group said on Tuesday. "Four kilos (8.8 lb) of wild-caught fish are needed to produce one kilo of farmed fish," the Swiss-based WWF said in a report urging reform of fish farming ranging from species like salmon, trout, tuna and sea bream to crustaceans like prawns.

World farmed production roughly doubled in the past decade to 20 million ton a year, increasing demand for oil and fishmeal, made from species such as blue whiting and pilchards, to feed the farmed fish, it said. Without reform, it said the fast-growing industry could be consuming all the world's fish oil and half of its fishmeal by 2010, up from 70 percent of fish oil and 34 percent of fishmeal now.

The WWF said the blue whiting fishery was on the brink of collapse in the northeast Atlantic. "In its current state, aquaculture is contributing to an increased pressure on already depleted fish stocks," Simon Cripps, director of the WWF's Endangered Seas Program, said in the report.

He said a decline of stocks used in fish feed could have "devastating effects throughout the marine feed chain from wild stocks of cod, haddock, and other commercial species right on up to dolphins, orcas and marine birds." The WWF urged more research into alternative feeds for farmed fish including vegetable proteins such as soya or corn gluten, use of fish offal or use of trawlers' by-catches that are often dumped in the sea.

Another possibility was to set up fish farms for industrial species that could be reared on a vegetable diet. Dutch food group Nutreco (NUTR.AS), the world's biggest producer of farmed salmon, reckons it can develop a 50-50 diet of vegetable protein and fishmeal for planned new cod farms. It says cod farms would avoid depletion of the stock in the wild. A U.N. Earth Summit in South Africa last year set a 2015 deadline for reversing a decline in fish stocks worldwide.

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