Growing interest in alternative feeds

Growing interest in alternative feeds USDA Fish nutritionist Rick Barrows (right) captures trout for technician Jason Frost to weigh and measure. Image: Steve Ausmus USDA/ARS

Despite the limited supply of fish stocks, aquaculture continues to depend on wild-caught fishmeal and fish oil. By interacting with ingredient providers, researchers, fish farmers and feed companies, one collaborative effort, the Future of Fish Feed (F3), is working to offer some innovative solutions, reports Bonnie Waycott.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), an average of 18.90 million tonnes of wild-caught fish such as sardines, anchovies or herring is used each year to make fishmeal and fish oil. The FAO also predicts that by 2030, 25% less wild-caught seafood will be available compared to today, and that aquaculture will see a similar reduction unless it can address the shortage of fishmeal for feed.

The Feed Innovation Network (FIN) is a project of the Future of Fish Feed (F3), which encourages more sustainable innovations including the use of alternative ingredients in aquaculture feed. With concerns high that the heavy use of fishmeal and fish oil is threatening both the feed and food supply chains, this collaborative effort between NGOs, academic researchers, government and private partnerships was established to speed up the development and adoption of ingredients that could replace wild-caught fish. The network was shaped at an F3: Fish-Free Feed Challenge meeting, after issues on ingredient evaluation were raised. It was suggested that experimental protocols be shared, and that local FINs help vet ingredient efficacy for local species.

"We need innovative ingredients and feed in aquaculture, to ensure the continued availability of fishmeal and fish oil, an important global protein for food security, and to preserve the marine food web and the health of our oceans," said the F3 team.

In order to accelerate the industry adoption of alternative ingredients, FIN shares information on these ingredients through its website f3fin.org. This information includes experimental testing on performance, such as palatability, digestibility and nutritional value. These are then made available to a network of feed companies, ingredient suppliers, aquaculture operators and investors.

"We found that a lot of alternative ingredient providers were unfamiliar with the information that aquafeed companies need in order to consider adopting a new ingredient," said the F3 team. "This could be the digestibility or palatability of the ingredient, effects on waste management, feed processing or growth trials. So we developed evaluation protocols for ingredients and feed to help aquafeed companies to consider adopting new ingredients."

In addition to experimental protocols, FIN's website also contains information on facilities that can conduct experiments to evaluate ingredients and feeds, and a list of companies that already have alternative ingredients or feeds for aquaculture available for purchase or are in the process of testing them. Examples of ingredients evaluated by the FIN are bacterial meal, insect meal, plant-based protein, algae, yeast and agricultural co-products.

Some data for these ingredients were originally obtained from the United States Department of Agriculture - Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. FIN is now planning to expand its content to include more types of ingredients and experiments, as funding is obtained and ingredient companies follow protocols. Only studies that follow the protocols will be included to ensure that all results are comparable. The role of the protocols is to standardize the various steps involved in evaluating ingredients, such as determining composition (macro-nutrients, amino acids and minerals), any potential effects of the ingredient on the manufacturing process, palatability, and whether it's digestible and supports good growth.

"The Feed Innovation Network is in the very early stages of formation, and developing ways for all parties to interact and share information is crucial," said the F3 team. "We believe that once some momentum is gained, participation will increase as ingredient providers are assisted in fast-tracking the evaluation of their ingredients. Ingredient buyers will also be able to find all the information available on these ingredients at one location. A true network can only exist with participation from the entire community, but we feel that if a framework can be put in place, these essential services will grow."

Aquaculture is poised to provide nutritious food to a global population that is expected to increase by 1 billion by 2050. Wild-caught fish stocks are declining, but aquaculture continues to use these resources, because they are cheaper than some alternative ingredients. Over the years, the amount of fishmeal and fish oil in aquafeed has declined dramatically in light of declining wild-caught fish, but turning to alternative feeds even more is going to be key going forward. The F3 team is confident that alternative feed development can be encouraged and accelerated further.

"Governments can fund research to find viable alternatives, and large companies can scale production of alternatives as they are discovered, so that their prices can drop and so that they can be offered cost-efficiently," they said. "The FIN was created to support and accelerate communication of findings globally, so that alternatives could be adopted as soon as possible to decrease the pressure on wild-caught fish."

The F3 team also launched the F3 contest as another way of accelerating and encouraging the development and sale of viable fish-free aquafeed around the world. A global contest is underway to help catalyse the development and sale of "fish-free" fish oil, a critical feed ingredient. Ten companies from around the world have registered to compete in the contest to sell as much fishmeal-free aquafeed as they can, to prove its commercial viability. Contestants include start-up firms, integrated multinationals with hundreds of employees, and smaller ingredient firms.

"Our first F3 contest encouraged and accelerated the development of 'fish-free' feed. It was a global contest, and we were able to make contact with new ingredient companies and aquafeed firms around the world," said the F3 team. "That contest ended in 2017, and our new, on-going project is the second contest, the F3 Fish Oil Challenge, where we anticipate that we will establish contact with innovative oil companies."

The F3 team is now aiming to secure funding for longer-term projects, achieve international cooperation for the Feed Innovation Network by establishing contact with governments and create a Global Aquaculture Feed Innovation Research Engine (AFIRE). Applications have been submitted for U.S government funding, and one F3 team member is part of a long-standing project in Myanmar and Vietnam. Contact has also been made with China's Ministry of Agriculture and the head of fisheries. Working with the world's largest aquaculture nation, the F3 team is now hoping that new, innovative ingredients can be rapidly researched and adopted in China. The team are also planning to have a meeting in February 2019 to assist networking among promising 'fish free fish oil' companies and large aquafeed firms, so alternatives can be quickly adopted to ease the demand for wild caught ​fish and assure food security for marine proteins in the future.

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