Supercharged: health and welfare results in sustainability performance in aquaculture

In brief:

  • Filling the Protein Gap: Aquaculture is crucial for meeting future protein demands, needing an extra 30-40 million tons of fish and shrimp by 2030
  • Health and Welfare Impact: Health and welfare drive sustainability, influencing production efficiency, environmental footprint, antimicrobial resistance, and food waste
  • Economic and Environmental Benefits: Better health and welfare in aquaculture reduce mortality and increase profitability, lowering CO2 emissions significantly and improving overall sustainability

Hungry: Aquaculture’s Role in Filling the Protein Gap

Aquaculture plays an important part when it comes to filling the protein gap for the generations to come. To make this happen, the world will require another 30 to 40 million tons of fish and shrimp by 2030, which must be produced within planetary boundaries. Health and welfare are key drivers for sustainable aquaculture and depend on biotic and abiotic factors. Production efficiencies and profitability, the environmental footprint, antimicrobial resistance and food loss and waste all impact overall sustainability performance.

Health and welfare challenges are present in all aquaculture systems. Poor results are often linked to industry reputational issues, as stakeholders across the value chain demand increased transparency. Sustainability reports play a pivotal role when it comes to company profiling. Factors such as mortality, welfare indicators, antibiotic treatment and sealice infestation levels are key sustainability metrics.

Science-based Targets: Health, Welfare and Sustainability Ambition

Bacterial and viral diseases, external parasites, melanosis, skin wounds and environmental challenges are among many factors that can reduce productivity, profitability and the overall sustainability performance.

In Norway, it is estimated that the lost value due to a 20% mortality would be in excess of €2.7m for an average farm (Biomar Sustainability Report 2022). The total industry annual cost of €5.6b would be the financial loss for European salmon by mid-century (DNV, 2021). In addition, these costs do not cover the reduced growth, resource utilisation and compromised fish when grown in suboptimal conditions.

Even when mortality is avoided, skin wounds can affect product quality and drive losses. For example, skin wounds have an estimated cost to the Norwegian salmon industry of €700m annually (John Harald Pettersen, Lofotenseminar June 2023). Biological issues remain a challenge for the salmon industry, and sea lice still represents the biggest issue to date. Other diseases are prevalent, such as pancreas disease (PD), infectious salmon anemia (ISA) and heart and skeletal muscle inflammation (HSMI). In the most recent Fish Health report from Norway (Veterinaerinstituttet, 2023) fish health professionals revealed that damage from sealice treatment and gill diseases were of the top concerns in the Norwegian industry.

1 in 5: Mortality and LCA Impact

Farmed fish is recognised as one of the most environmentally efficient and sustainable form of protein production. However, mortality rates of up to 20% can be referenced in commercial aquaculture systems, meaning that 1 in 5 animals does not make it to the end of the production cycle. The carbon footprint, as part of the full life cycle analysis (LCA) is an essential metric of environmental sustainability in animal production systems.

LCA considers the resource use for an output of animal production, and therefore mortality lowers the output. Calculations have been done to highlight the savings in greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions when mortalities are reduced or avoided. For example, if an average Norwegian salmon farm could avoid a 20% fish loss, 2100 tonnes of CO2e would be saved (Biomar Sustainability report 2022). This 2100 tonnes CO2e saving is equivalent to the annual GHG emissions of 450 cars. Recent examples also include Cargill Aqua Nutrition SeaFurther initiative. Using 2020 baseline, health, welfare and mortality had a 12.5% contribution to the overall carbon footprint, while interventions lowered GHG emissions (kg CO2e per kg fish) by 8%.

Cargill Aqua Nutrition Sustainability Report 2022

dsm-firmenich’s strategic initiative We Make It Possible helps the industry to build a robust and achievable transformation worldwide, toward more sustainable animal protein production, and to accelerate science-based solutions to foster a brighter future for everyone. A win-win for the whole value chain from farmers to consumers, and future generations.

dsm-firmenich: 6 key sustainability & business platforms

Robust: Data and Analytics

Global Salmon Initiative reported annually mortality as one of the sustainability indicators. The industry is also accelerating the adoption of new technologies focusing on fish welfare. For example, technologies available to monitor live fish in cages and quantify the level of some biological indicators, such as skin wounds. At the same time, there is increased focus on the environmental footprint, and the importance of measuring, knowing and reducing your own footprint.

In recent years, many salmon companies have made public commitments towards decarbonization and have signed up to science-based targets (SBTi) to reduce GHG emissions by 2030 in line with the Paris Agreement on climate change. Sustell™ is a robust, user-friendly, secure, cloud-based intelligent platform for data input, calculation & visualization of aquaculture environmental footprints results. It measures the full LCA of the animal protein production and has modules available today for salmon, marine fish and coming soon, shrimp.

Global Threat: Antimicrobial Resistance

The World Health Organization cites Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) as an increasingly serious threat to global public health, and implementation of coordinated action plans across all levels of society is vital. Antibiotic use in animal protein production is recognized as one of the drivers in AMR and a risk factor to human and environmental health (FAO, 2019). If no action is taken, AMR could lead to 10 million deaths each year by 2050 and force up to 24 million people into extreme poverty by 2030 (WHO, 2019).

The aquaculture sector has developed rapidly over the past decades, and within the sustainability dialogue the reduced use of antibiotics is a key development focus. The Norwegian salmon industry, which in 2023 produced 1.4M tons of salmon, has almost eliminated the use of antibiotics in the last two decades.

However, in other aquaculture species, where there has been less success of vaccines and biosecurity measures for specific diseases, the use of antibiotics is still a necessity.

Intervention: Nutrition to Improve Footprint

dsm-firmenich plays a key role in providing solutions for animal production that deliver optimum health and welfare and mitigate the risk of AMR.

Examples include the concept of OVN Optimum Vitamin Nutrition® and eubiotic portfolio. OVN Optimum Vitamin Nutrition® targets feeding animals high quality vitamins in the right amounts and ratios appropriate to their life stage and growing conditions.

Our eubiotic solutions improve gut health and strengthen the immune system in both fish and shrimp. By increasing immune defense, disease resistance and supporting the animal through adverse environmental conditions, we help the industry to reduce the need to use antibiotics and improve survival by up to 30%. Extensive documentation has been generated for our Rovimax® (nucleotides), Biotronic® (organic acids), Digestarom® (essential oils) and AquaStar® (probiotics), enabling consistent improvement in survival and performance in both cold water and warm water species.

What’s next?

Health and welfare challenges not only drive financial results but impact the environmental footprint of animal production. As always, the need for data transparency and aligned methodology, also extends to monitoring environmental footprint.

Published on

28 May 2024


  • Aquaculture
  • Fish
  • Sustainability
  • Environmental Footprint

About the Authors

Louise Buttle - Key Accounts Aqua Global, Animal Nutrition & Health at dsm-firmenich

Louise holds a PhD obtained at the University of Hull, UK. She has over two decades of industry experience in aquaculture, much of this time with EWOS and Cargill in the salmon farming countries; Scotland, Chile, and Norway. Louise held various positions in R&D, product development, innovation, and sustainability. She joined dsm-firmenich in May 2019 and is committed to delivering solutions supporting the further development of sustainable aquaculture.

Fabio Cervellione - Director of Nutrition & Health Solution Aqua Global at G.O. Johnsen AS

Fabio is a Director of Nutrition & Health Solution Aqua Global at G.O. Johnsen AS, which markets dsm-firmenich Nutritional Products.

He holds a veterinary degree obtained at the University of Milan, MSc in Aquatic Veterinary Studies at Stirling University, and a PhD in veterinary medicine at Ghent University.

Fabio has more than 15 years of experience in the aquaculture industry, through different local and global roles in technical service, sales, R&D, and marketing.


You are being redirected.

We detected that you are visitng this page from United States. Therefore we are redirecting you to the localized version.