Think you know everything about omega-3 supplements?
We’ve shared a decent amount of information with you here on the GLX3 Blog.
But there’s one point we touched on that deserves a closer look from an educated observer.
In this post, we turn the reins over to Paul Greenberg, author of the new book The Omega Principle.
Greenberg recently sat down with Terry Gross of NPR’s Fresh Air.
His interview might change the way you think about selecting your omega-3 supplement.
Here are the 3 most shocking facts we heard from him in the segment.
1. The Fishing Process Used in the Production of Fish Oil Supplements Can Reduce Populations of Larger Fish
Do you enjoy eating tuna, salmon, and swordfish?
How about going on fishing trips for these big guys?
Well, the overfishing of a critical ‘middle layer’ of the ocean can threaten your ability to do any of that. Plus, it affects the functioning of the entire ocean environment.
Let’s break this process down:
- The energy from the sun gets absorbed and processed by phytoplankton.
- Small fish in this crucial ‘middle layer’ like menhaden (“bunker”) eat the phytoplankton to get the energy.
- Bigger fish eat the smaller fish and the energy transfers yet again.
So, when you remove a significant chunk of the fish from this ‘middle layer’-so much that bunker are the most caught fish in the lower 48 states-you break up the food chain process.
Greenberg describes it the following way:
The fish that are harvested by the supplement industry are keystone species. They are essential for growing larger fish. And if we remove those smaller fish from the system, then we’re going to see fewer bigger fish. I mean, I think some of your listeners might remember the big cod crashes of the 1980s…But what people don’t generally know is that prior to the cod collapse, there was a huge assault on the prey base of cod on the Grand Banks.
With fewer smaller fish, the big fish can’t obtain the energy they once did.
In addition to bunker, most fish oil supplements use the Peruvian anchoveta for oil. Fishing companies pull in over 10 million metric tons of this fish some years, making it the most caught fish in the world. (1)
As Greenberg says:
You could do anything with them. But 99% of those Peruvian anchoveta are ground up into animal feed, boiled down into oil and turned into supplements. So to me, to my mind, that is not necessarily the wisest use to be made of this really, really important source both for the ecology of the ocean but also for humans.
And yet that is what fish oil supplement companies do with it.
2. “Sustainable Fishing” Doesn’t Always Mean What You Think
In the interview, Greenberg describes the way companies catch these small fish as a “reduction industry”-that is, they catch fish reduce them down to animal feed, fish oil, etc.
He acknowledges these companies do try to follow the rules regarding sustainable fishing practices and sticking to quotas.
But the problem is the way they think about sustainability when creating these rules.
So whenever I talk to people with it, whether they’re within menhaden or with Peruvian anchoveta, they all say, what we’re doing is sustainable. And within maybe the small box of what they’re thinking, maybe it is sustainable in that they’ll catch this many fish next year, and it’ll allow them to keep catching that many fish the next year.
We know this is no good, as it turns a blind eye to the effects mentioned in number 1.
Greenberg suggests a shift to ecosystem-based management, which takes into consideration these effects fishing has on other aspects of the natural world.
More and more what I found doing research for this book was a real push to try and get reduction industry people to look at ecosystem-based management so that we’re not just thinking about how many fish we need for next year to have more fish next year. We’re really looking at the whole entirety of the ecosystem and really considering how much we’re going to take out of the ocean so that everybody is well-fed, and everything is in balance.
That sounds like a better idea.
But we can’t fully trust fishing companies to implement a change like that overnight, or even before it was too late to maintain the balance.
Luckily, a sustainable omega-3 source already exists.
3. Farmed Mussels are Good for Both Human and Environmental Health
If you’ve read our post about how green lipped mussels are farmed, this third fact may not come as much of a shock.
And it seems Greenberg agrees about the benefits from bivalves. He incorporates mussels into his diet, and says:
They actually improve the marine environment even as we grow them. They filter the water. They make the water cleaner. They actually provide structure for all sorts of other animals to exist.
Sounds like a win-win.
In fact, our aquacultured mussels feed only on naturally occurring phytoplankton. It’s sustainable and does not attack the native fish or krill populations that whales and other larger fish and animals depend upon.
Just remember, you want your shellfish sourced from waters that look like this:
(GLX3 video or screenshot)
…and not from contaminated sources.
From Paul Greenberg’s interview with NPR, we learned:
- Cutting out the “middle layer” of small fish reduces the number of bigger fish and throws off the ecosystem.
- “Sustainable” practices to catch fish for fish oil may not actually be sustainable.
- Farming mussels helps purify the water and environment where they grow and gives us a sustainable source of omega-3s for our supplements.
It looks like there’s a clear choice if you want to help your body and the world we live in when choosing an omega-3 supplement:
Go green. Mussels, that is.