(Register now for GOED’s premier omega-3 industry event, focusing on the theme of ‘growth in the omega-3 industry’ — GOED Exchange 2020, February 4-6 in Barcelona, Spain.)
South Pacific Anchovy
The largest source of EPA and DHA in the global supplement market is the South Pacific anchovy fishery located off the coast of Peru and parts of Chile. This fishery has the highest natural concentration of EPA and DHA versus all other fish in sea, according to one Peruvian anchovy producer.
GOED’s proprietary market data showed that approximately 60% of EPA and DHA supplements worldwide begin with these small-bodied fish. The same producer explained that in terms of the global supply chain, there’s room to grow: “We produce 200,000-250,000 tons of fish oil at year on average, and for the moment, about 30% of that goes into omega-3s for human consumption (with the rest going to applications like aquaculture). In the end, this fishery is reliable and has plenty of product available to support growth in the nutraceutical space.”
Gulf and Atlantic Menhaden
One of the next largest fisheries for EPA and DHA in the global market is the American menhaden fishery, which is subdivided into an area off the mid-Atlantic coast and another in the Gulf of Mexico. Menhaden oils have been used in human omega-3 supplements in the past, but now are primarily a quality source of EPA and DHA for pet foods and supplements, as a North American menhaden processor explained: “These small, oily-fleshed fish have a relatively short lifespan that minimizes their exposure to environmental contaminants and man-made pollutants.” Both menhaden fisheries have recently been certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council.
Cod Liver Oil
Cod liver oil supplements were one of the first commercially sold omega-3 supplements in the modern marketplace and were originally sold for their vitamin content rather than EPA and DHA. They remain a popular source of omega-3s, especially in Northern Europe and Scandinavia where the cod fisheries that supply the oils are located. “The Lofoten and Vesterålen archipelago has been a traditional source of Arctic cod liver oil from the very beginning,” according to one Norway-based producer of cod liver oil supplements.
Salmon and Pollock Oils
Salmon and pollock oils are fished near the same latitudes as the cod fished for cod liver oils, but a hemisphere away, off the coasts of Alaska.
Alaskan salmon oils are made from trimmings and byproducts of the wild Alaskan salmon seafood industry. As one salmon processor explained, salmon oils are typically made “using a gentle cold-press process that preserves the balance of all fatty acids found naturally in wild salmon. So it’s as close to eating whole fish as you can get in a supplement.”
Pollock is another fish caught wild in Alaska’s Bering Sea whose trimmings are processed into nutritional oils. Although the global volume of pollock oil supplements is relatively small, “the Alaska pollock fishery overall is actually the largest fishery for human consumption in the world,” according to one pollock oil producer. McDonald’s Filet o’ Fish sandwiches, for example, are sourced from wild Alaska pollock. “It’s also considered to be one of the best-managed fisheries,” the producer claimed. “It’s been managed by the U.S. government for well over 30 years and has been continuously certified by the Marine Stewardship Council since 2005.”
In addition to the popularity of canned tuna, nutritional oils made from tuna byproducts are found in products across the world. Why? “Tuna oil is uniquely high in DHA, low in EPA, and is perfect for applications where higher DHA levels are desired,” said a global tuna oil producer. Most notably, this makes the oil an excellent candidate for global use in infant formula, whose tiny consumers typically need more DHA than EPA. The company also pointed toward potential applications of tuna oil as a cardiovascular and ocular health solution in nutraceuticals.
Hoki oil comes from a high-DHA pelagic fish native to an MSC-certified fishery in New Zealand. The regulation of the fishery and nutritional content of the oils means that it “provides an exciting new source of DHA for customers who will not compromise on sustainability and freshness,” according to one hoki harvester.
Roe and Caviar Oils
Some EPA and DHA oils come from fish roes and caviars rather than fish organs or bodies. One Norwegian caviar oil producer explained, “Oil like this is sourced from the side stream of other fisheries. Fish are caught and brought to shore within hours of capture. The caviar is separated from the fish during fillet production and frozen immediately to lock in the nutritional goodness of the roe. At the start of the production process, the caviar is thawed and the phospholipid EPA and DHA, choline, and vitamin D are gently extracted from the roe to create the oil.”
Other Marine Animal Oils
Krill and Calanus Oils
Krill are microcrustaceans from the Antarctic Ocean whose oils contain EPA and DHA in phospholipid form. The advantage of the phospholipid form, according to a krill oil producer, is “that the body immediately recognizes phospholipid omega-3s and incorporates them into cells before carrying them to the tissues and organs that need them the most, like the heart, brain, and joints.”
Oil from calanus, a microcrustacean that lives in the Northern Atlantic, is also one of the only wax ester nutritional oils on the market. “Bioavailability studies have demonstrated excellent uptake of wax esters when benchmarked against traditional omega-3 products,” said the world’s largest producer of calanus oil. “They’re digested slowly, which means calanus oil activates receptors in the distal intestine, which could have special benefits for prediabetic people.”
Some supplements use oil made from the byproducts of the squid meat production industry, which is relatively high in DHA.
Green-Shelled Mussel Oil
New Zealand’s green-shelled mussels also contain EPA and DHA, and their oil is used in supplements for both humans and pets.
Plant-Based EPA & DHA Oils
Originally cultivated as part of research commissioned by NASA, oils from specific strains of algae (Nannochloropsis for EPA and Schizochytrium for DHA, specifically) can provide consumers with EPA and DHA directly, instead of having to get them via marine life farther up the food chain. One algal EPA producer observed, “microalgae are among the oldest organisms known, and have supported life on our planet for literally billions of years.”
More and more advances in the production of these algae mean that “algae as a source of omega-3 can be used to create vegan, kosher, non-GMO products that are great for the environment,” one producer of algal DHA noted.
(Note: The popular algae chlorella and spirulina likely have nutritional value but are not a source of EPA and DHA.)
Genetically Modified Terrestrial Plants
The newest entrants to the EPA and DHA supply chain are genetically modified forms of terrestrial oil seeds that express EPA and/or DHA, primarily canola and camelina plants. As one producer of a GM canola argued, “this crop is easily scalable, sustainable, and will relieve pressure on wild fish stocks.” The developer of the EPA and DHA-expressing camelina reported, “this oil has recently been validated in human studies that confirm its efficacy and point to new opportunities in the nutraceutical market.”
Register now for GOED’s premier omega-3 industry event, focusing on the theme of ‘growth in the omega-3 industry’ — GOED Exchange 2020, February 4-6 in Barcelona, Spain.