Time to STOP Feeding Your Dog/Cat Bunker-Based Pet Food

by Capt. Paul Eidman, Forage Fish Committee Chair
(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association April 2014 Newsletter)

Fishermen have a unique connection with each other that is rarely talked about. We are animal people!

We love our dogs, cats, horses, etc. Personally, I have two dogs, two cats and this takes me pet food shopping very often.

Anglers buy A LOT of pet food and this gives us power as consumers to change the game. For those of you that have read my past blogs, you know that I am really into the conservation of forage fish (Think: Gamefish food) because I realize that our sport depends on this vital part of the food chain to exist.

All over the world, smaller fish like menhaden, herring, anchovy, etc are being ground up and turned into fish meal and fish oil. The demand for high quality, inexpensive protein, omega -3 fatty acids and minerals is skyrocketing and forage fish are being rapidly and carelessly vacuumed up and depleted.

The vast majority of these prey species have fallen through the cracks and regulations have yet to catch up. Commercial fish harvesters are exploiting and profiting BIG by focusing on our national love of dogs and cats.

Walking down the pet food aisle in your local pet store is a mind-blowing experience in itself.

This is America, and we do things big. Colorful bags from floor to ceiling, ads on the floor, free sample bags at and coupons at the door. They know that once we buy a brand and our pets like it, we will stick with it. There are hundreds of brands and special mixes to choose from. Don’t kid yourself, this is a 15 billion dollar a year business in the U.S.

Actually selecting a pet food without Menhaden in it requires a lot of work and patience, something we are all short on. Oftentimes, Menhaden is disguised with another name. My favorites are “Ocean Fish” and “Fish meal.” What exactly is an Ocean Fish? What type of fish is that? Where does it come from? What the heck am I feeding my dog?

It’s a daunting task. And as if this wasn’t hard enough, the prices are really crazy. In this economy we are all cutting where we can but we still want the best for our critters. You wind up just grabbing a bag that fits your taste and budget and hope for the best.

There is a very good chance that the dog or cat food that you are currently buying contains menhaden-based fish meal/fish oil that comes from the very fish that our gamefish and everything else in the ecosystem relies on for survival. These forage fish are literally being taken right out of the mouths of the fish we catch.

In the past, I have used Hills brand, Science Diet “veterinarian recommended” Adult maintenance dog food for many years. I had a black Labrador retriever that lived for 19 1/2 years on the stuff! The label on the bag stated that it contains, among other things, powdered cellulose, chicken by-products, etc. My dogs like it, and its priced affordably and available locally. It didn’t have any fish meal or fish-related products in it, so I was good to go.

After entering my particular “light Formula” Science Diet food into the many consumer dog food rating sites online, it came out very low on the ratings scale. My dogs really deserve better food so my research continued. I decided to change foods, keeping in mind that it would be very hypocritical for me as “Joe Forage Fish” to use a non-sustainable fish-containing product so I wanted to be sure that the food I was selecting was, for lack of a better term, “green.”

I buy my dog food 40 pounds at a time, so I figured Costco was the best place to hit. There were four different types of Kirkland, which is Costco’s house brand of dog food. All the bags, including the cat food, had “Fish Meal” in the ingredients. I wasn’t happy about this at all because the price was very good and the rest of the ingredients were much better as well.

I wrote an email to Costco and they had no idea what kind of fish was used, but they said they would find out for me and write back. This is where I learned about something called co-branding, the art of one giant manufacturer that creates a product and then puts a dozen or more different labels on it, leaving the consumer in the dark about the actual source of the dog food. There are hundreds of different brands out there, but only a dozen or so actual manufacturers.

Diamond is Kirkland’s manufacturer and they proudly reported back to Costco customer service that they only use the finest Atlantic Menhaden in all their foods. That was all I had to hear. There was no way I was feeding this to my pets.

FYI - Here is the Diamond Pet food website definition of fish meal they use:

“Whole Menhaden fish, cooked and ground to a meal. Naturally preserved. Good source of protein, omega-3 (linolenic) fatty acids, and minerals.”

How could Costco, a company that boasted recently of revamping their seafood product line to only include sustainable fish, be putting their name on a bag of dog food that comes from fish that are being unsustainably fished?

The prices at the local Petsmart were much higher than the local feed-type store so I checked the brands there. I even met with the store manager and started asking questions about which foods she had on the shelf contained Menhaden. The store manager had never even heard of the lowly Menhaden, nor was she familiar with the fact that these fish are being unsustainably taken by the commercial fleets along the Mid-Atlantic and in the Gulf of Mexico. How can you sell pet food for a living and not be aware of one of the key ingredients added to increase the protein and Omega 3 levels?

My final decision came down to two and I now use Merrick brand, Menhaden free type of Dog Food and Natural balance Menhaden Free type of cat food, and I made sure I told the store manager why I selected this. Pretty obvious that if they eliminated the menhaden containing dog and cat foods, they would have to close down. Yes, the situation is that bad. In the USA, the last Menhaden fish meal and oil manufacturing company - Omega Protein, Inc. - depends on sales to the companion pet food industry for approx 12% of its annual revenue! Yes, Science Diet, Purina, Iamms, Blue Buffalo, etc. are all great clients of Omega and have been for years. Note that not all of the types of foods that these brands offer contain fish meal, so you need to really read up and ask questions and even call customer service.

There are millions of anglers and we have the power to dictate and change corporate habits. Fisherman need to speak up and demand that our favorite companion pet food companies STOP using Menhaden or other forage fish and switch to more sustainable protein sources instead of the very baitfish that our gamefish need to survive.

No Bunker = No Bass!

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