Aquafeed is big business. The 2022 Alltech Agri-Food Outlook, based on data from more than 140 countries, estimates that international feed tonnage – for livestock and aquaculture combined – increased by 2.3% in 2021, year-on-year, to a total of 1.235 billion tons.
Aquafeed grew faster than this, with an increase of 3.7%. The Alltech report says: “Recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) are becoming more prevalent, and consumer demand for fish is on the rise. Markets with ASF [Asian swine flu] challenges saw additional growth due to their reduced pork supply.”
The growth of aquaculture production means that, although the proportion of marine ingredients in aquafeed has reduced – substituted with, for example, increasing use of soy and new ingredients such as algal oil – aquaculture’s share of world fishmeal and fish oil has increased enormously over the past half century.
From a negligible share in 1960, aquaculture’s share of fishmeal production has risen to more than 30% in 2000 and above 70% in 2020. It is a similar story with fish oil.
Feed producer Skretting estimates that aquaculture production is likely to go up by another 32% between 2018 (the date of the last UN survey of the sector) and 2030. This, Skretting estimates, will create demand for an additional 40 million tons of aquafeed.
Speaking at Seafood Expo Global in Barcelona earlier this year, Petter Johannesen – Director-General of IFFO, the marine ingredients organization – said this means that the debate over marine vs “novel” ingredients in feed needs to be put in context.
As he put it: “Instead of discussing ‘replacing’ ingredients in aquafeed, I think we need to add both new [non-marine] and marine ingredients.”
In fact, IFFO’s report for the first three months of this year shows that, for the countries covered in the survey (accounting for about half of world production), Q1 production remained at the average level for 2013-2021. In March of this year, the marine raw material used around the world was 6% less than the figure for Q1 2020.
In terms of fishmeal production, India, the Iceland/North Atlantic area and the African countries were the only regions considered in the IFFO report which increased their cumulative output during the first three months of 2022.
For fish oil, the US, the Northern European area and the African countries were the regions that reported a year-on-year increase.
Clearly, relying on an increased catch of wild fish to satisfy the demand for aquafeed is not a sustainable solution, and we’re increasingly seeing feed companies working with specialist producers and start-ups to explore the use of new, non-marine elements.
For example, international feed business Adisseo recently announced a collaboration with insect producer Entobel, which specialises in black soldier fly (BSF) production.
Adisseo and Entobel are working together on R&D to discover how best to feed BSF larvae in order to convert them into fish and animal feed.
In a joint statement the companies said: “By evaluating the interest and adaptation of the existing solutions they aim to improve production of insect meal, focused on the performance of the insects and the quality of this protein meal, prioritising the way to control the ingredients used to feed insects, and their complementarities with the most important feed additives, like methionine and enzymes.”
As natural “bioconverters”, insects can feed on what would otherwise be unusable waste products, in turn providing feed for those creatures that humans find to be more palatable.
Entobel has a long expertise in insect production and processing, and it is one of the most advanced and agile insect players in Asia, with more than two years of stable production track record at its current site in South Vietnam.
As reported in our review of Aquaculture UK (see fish farmerJune 2022), feed group BioMar is aiming to reduce its dependence on marine ingredients, encourage the circular economy and reduce the aquaculture sector’s carbon footprint, all under the group’s “Blue Impact” initiative.
BioMar Chief Executive Carlos Diaz, launching the group’s “2030 Ambitions” last year, said: “Humanity has burdened our planet and pushed beyond planetary boundaries. We must strive beyond sustainability and innovate with solutions that restore the planet while supporting its people.”
BioMar’s collaboration with Deep Branch, a company that has developed a novel protein, Proton, derived from a microbe fed on clean CO2 from industrial production, and hydrogen, is just one example of what the group is doing in practice.
Another example is BioMar’s agreement, announced in April, with environmental group the Earthworm Foundation to drive responsible shrimp projects in Ecuador. The full value chain collaboration will not only include deforestation-free aquafeeds but also capacity-building initiatives to drive social change and sustainability best practices in the region.
Another way to omega-3
Omega-3 oil, a critically important element in marine ingredients, can be substituted with oil derived directly from algae rather than from the zooplankton and fish further up the food chain.
Last month, feed producer Skretting announced the results from a trial it has been carrying out with sea bream and sea bass in Turkey, in collaboration with algal oil producer Veramaris, retailer Metro Turkey and fish farm business Hatko Aquaculture.
The sea bream and sea bass produced in the project have been fed a specialized feed – Marine Omega™ – from Skretting Turkey, containing Veramaris algal oil to maximise both the EPA & DHA omega-3 content, and reduce the inclusion of marine ingredients in the feed. In this first phase of the project, 150 tons of fish have been fed Marine Omega, with 180 tons of marine ingredients being substituted.
Following the first harvest, the products have been introduced to the market by Metro Turkey.
The project started in 2021, and Skretting Turkey is encouraged by the results so far. Pinar Demir Soker, Technical Manager, says: “The pandemic has emphasized the need for sustainable, healthy and local foods and revealed consumer expectations for companies to continue their operations in a conscious, transparent and ethical manner. Through our global expertise in feed, we have developed a product that is a part of the solution in the journey of sustainability in food, so that we can leave sufficient, healthy, quality seafood for future generations.”
The fish, at the harvest stage, contain more omega-3 fatty acids than other products on the market, Skretting says.
Specialist feed requirements require specialist solutions. Reed Mariculture, which focuses mainly on feed for aquariums and hatcheries – for a wide range of sectors from fish farming and shrimp production to bivalve shellfish – grows its own zooplankton, reducing dependence on harvesting directly from the sea.
Feed producers have also had to adapt to new species. For example, World Feeds, which started as a supplier to public aquariums and the hobby market, now also provides specialist feed blocks for cleaner fish like lumpfish and wrasse. These fish share pens with salmon but they feed in a very different way and their aquafeed needs to take account of this.
Finally, technology is increasingly helping to minimise waste and maximise fish welfare. At Aquaculture UK, aquatech company Bluegrove showcased an artificial intelligence-led feeding system, which combines data gathered from hydroacoustic sensors with biological and environmental data. While a camera sees about 1% to 3% of the cage, hydroacoustics can observe about 70% of the entire cage, Bluegrove says.
The feeding system recognizes patterns in the behavior of the fish. Guided by the online dashboard, farmers know exactly when and how much to feed the fish, based on data and objective analysis of fish behavior and appetite. The system can even feed fully autonomously.
Finnish company Arvo-Tec also combines a smart feed system with data collection to help farmers manage their stock. Focusing on RAS (recirculating aquaculture systems) facilities, Arvo-Tec is, for example, helping Finnish trout farmer FinnForel to plan ahead and manage complete year-round production, including ensuring that production of feed pellets matches actual demand at different stages of the year .
Feed is possibly the most significant cost for the aquaculture sector, but getting it right is also crucial for the industry’s reputation, in terms of sustainability and welfare.