Production of cheap, mass-market fish oils puts heavy pressure on stocks of menhaden… a small fish whose decline portends dire consequences
by Craig Weatherby

Paul Greenberg writes regularly for The New York Times, focusing on fish, aquaculture, and the future of the oceans.

Last March, he penned a Times op-ed piece in which he decried the practice of feeding mountains of increasingly scarce wild fish to pets, pigs, and poultry (See “Fishing for Kitty Food… and Piggy Provisions”).

And this week, Mr. Greenberg wrote about a threat posed to one of the most important “forage” fish in the ocean … a sardine/herring cousin called menhaden.

Menhaden form a key foundation of the Atlantic Ocean food chain… and they filter vast quantities of ecosystem-killing algae fed by run-off bearing nitrogen-rich fertilizers and manure from factory-style pig and poultry farms.

Menhaden roam America's Atlantic coast in once-endless schools… schools that are vanishing as they get vacuumed up by the largest U.S. maker of commercial fish oil… a company called Omega Protein Recovery.

Every Atlantic state but Virginia and North Carolina has banned the “Hoovering” of menhaden by boats working for Omega Protein… but because these slim, foot-long fish must pass through those two states' waters during their migrations, those bans are ineffective.

We urge you to read Mr. Greenberg's essay—titled “A Fish Oil Story”—and think twice before you purchase a mass-market fish oil brand that doesn't identify a sustainable source.

Plant-source omega-3s are not the answer
This passage from his essay contains a significant scientific error:

“So what is the seeker of omega-3 supplements to do?... Flax oil also fits the bill and uses no fish at all.”

In fact, the short-chain omega-3 fat found in flaxseed and all other plants—called ALA—is virtually useless to the body.

Humans only convert two to 10 percent of plant-derived ALA into EPA and DHA, with the rest being burned for energy.

People can survive and thrive on diets lacking fish or fish oil, if they consume ample amounts of leafy greens and/or flax …but it is much harder to attain optimal health without fish or fish oil. And fish fat is well-proven to enhance child development.

American diets are overwhelmed with omega-6 fats, which compete with omega-3s for incorporation into our cell membranes, so we need all the “pre-formed”, fish-derived omega-3s we can get.

Mr. Greenberg also points toward “…commercial products—including fish-oil pills made from fish discards—that don't contribute directly to the depletion of a fishery.”

While that's true, these fish oils can contain harmful contaminants and oxidized fats, so manufacturers find it convenient to “clean” them by processes called deodorization and molecular distillation.

These purification methods require temperatures over 400° F, which can alter the structure of omega-3 fatty acids, with unknown consequences.

Where does your fish oil come from?
Most mass market fish oil—including “natural” brands—comes from menhaden, herring, sardines, or waste from fish meal processing of all kinds of fish.

And fish oils increasingly come from farmed salmon, whose production has proven itself damaging and unsustainable.

Like all of our wild salmon products, Vital Choice Wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon Oil (and salmon) comes from the well-managed and protected Alaskan salmon fishery.

And our Salmon Oil is certified as a sustainable seafood product by the respected Marine Stewardship Council, which uses chain-of-custody audits to ensure our customers that our Salmon Oil really does come from sustainably harvested wild Alaskan sockeye salmon.

As to purity, every government agency and university concerned with the issue agrees that wild Alaskan salmon rank high among the cleanest fish in the sea, containing extraordinarily low levels of mercury or manmade pollutants.

To be sure, Vital Choice Wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon Oil is tested by internationally respected NSF labs, which certify its purity and potency.

  • Greenberg P. A Fish Oil Story. The New York Times. December 16, 2009. Accessed at