1,000's of fishes
February 24, 2014 4:01 PM   Subscribe

How many fish are killed for every fish oil pill I consume?

I'm a vegetarian who generally doesn't eat fish, and my motivations include not being super comfortable with being complicit in animal suffering and slaughter. (Also some environmental concerns, as well as the diet just being a pretty good fit to me.)

One exception is that I sometimes take fish oil tablets. Now my f.o.tab-habits are pretty fickle because of my mixed feelings about the matter. Maybe they'd be great for me, but I don't take them regularly enough to know. Maybe a single fish can be made into many pills. Maybe thousands of fish are "concentrated" into a pill. Maybe the oil is somehow derived from fish that are also eaten, making it somewhat less of a moral cost, though still not perfect.

So my basic question is how many fish, and perhaps also how many pounds of fish (are these big or little ones) does it take to make one of these pills. Also are lots of collateral damage fish or other sea animals getting killed in the process of netting the ones needed for the pills?

Bonus points for comments on the level of suffering in modern fishing. Is it mostly nets pulled out of the water (i.e., drowing in the air) like I would guess?

Here's the fish oil I have in my medicine cabinet right now.
posted by spbmp to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Fish aren't harvested just for oil. The oil is made from the fish byproducts that can't be sold as more profitable food. The fish in your capsules would've been goners anyway, there just would have been more waste produced and less profit made. So your eating fish oil capsules is a win-win!
posted by Dasein at 4:06 PM on February 24, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I can't vouch for how partial Neutraceuticals World is, but this article summarizes:

Ultimately, fish oils are byproducts of other industries and their availability is subject to the responsible management of these fisheries. The anchovy, sardine, cod and tuna fisheries produce about 99% of the fish oils consumed by humans today. The anchovy and sardine fisheries are among the best managed in the world and are healthy and strong. While some cod and sardine fisheries are currently threatened or overfished, the fish oil from these species largely comes from sustainable fisheries. The inaccurate media reporting that has blamed the collapse of some seafood fisheries on the growth in the omega 3 industry does not dive deep enough into where fish oils come from and how those fisheries are managed.

So it seems like environmentally, at least according to this, you're on safer ground. But if you have concerns about fish harvesting, it seems that sardines, at least, are caught in nets. That means suffocating them. (I make no value judgment here.)

A quick Google search found quite a few vegan-friendly alternatives to fish oil.
posted by kinetic at 4:26 PM on February 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

While it's not what you asked there are vegetarian alternatives if the ethics of fish oil bother you.
posted by wwax at 4:46 PM on February 24, 2014

according to wikipedia .. since I figure you're thinking 'is it 100s or 1000s of fish per pill?': very roughly.. about one fish per pill.
posted by herox at 4:57 PM on February 24, 2014

Where do you see that, herox?
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:24 PM on February 24, 2014

Best answer: I think Dasein has it, but wwax's point about vegetarian alternatives is worth emphasizing. Here's the kind of thing s/he has in mind.
posted by kestrel251 at 5:56 PM on February 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Some fish oil comes from fish caught specifically to be rendered for their oil- for example menhaden in Chesapeake Bay. Spotted by airplane, cooped up in giant factory trawlers, and taken to have the oil extracted. Menhaden are filter feeders on top of being important food sources for other bay fishes like striped bass. It probably depends on the particular brand of pill as to where it's oils come from, but it's not always win-win.

As to how many fish in a pill, I think it's the other way around. One fish can probably become lots of pills.
posted by Patapsco Mike at 6:53 PM on February 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I really doubt the anchovy and sardine fishery is well-managed. It's a massive, industrial-scale operation that takes gigantic quantities of sardines, anchovies, and pilchards to use as an industrial input, for everything from fertilizer to chicken feed to feed for fish farms.

Most of the salmon you buy at major supermarkets is farmed, and they eat fishmeal produced by this industry. In terms of efficient transfer of energy into calories, it's a total waste - it would be far more efficient just to eat sardines (which are damn damn tasty when grilled).

If you were to eat a sardine, you would be getting way more than that one pill's worth of oil. On top of that, natural fish oils, as opposed to the processed stuff you are popping, are better for you. It's also thought that fish oil pills give people too much of a good thing, those omega fatty acids.

So by using those supplements you are really buying into the entire industrial economy.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:05 PM on February 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

If whale sharks are the source of the oil in your pills, then it's certainly not a question of how many fish per pill, but of how many pills per fish as Patapsco Mike suggests.
posted by anadem at 8:50 PM on February 24, 2014

Best answer: If you care about overfishing you should probably find a vegetarian source of omega-3 oils.

Overfishing of Krill Threatens Ocean Ecosystem

Demand for Omega 3 Supplements Sees Huge Increase in Overfishing of Sharks

Omega-3 and Overfishing Blue Whiting

These links were from a quick Duck Duck Go search of "Omega-3 Overfishing".
posted by alms at 7:05 AM on February 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

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