The future of aquaculture points toward fish-free feeds.

Cliff White writes in that, at this year’s recent Seafood Expo North America, leaders from both the aquaculture and aquafeed industries spoke compellingly about the future of aquaculture being fish-free feeds.

Historically, aquafeeds have been composed of fishmeal, primarily derived from forage fish. When fed to salmon and other farmed species, forage fish passed on their high omega-3 fatty acid content, and were therefore, until recently, considered indispensable as an ingredient in aquafeeds. However, in order to feed a growing global population and in response to mounting criticism of the industry’s fish-in, fish-out ratio (FIFO) – the total weight of forage fish compared to the total produced mass of farmed fish – the industry has sought out more sustainable alternatives.

At the Seafood Expo North America panel “The Feed Revolution: Driving Eco-Efficiency and Innovation in Salmon Aquaculture,” the chief executives of several aquafeed and aquaculture companies spoke about the broad consensus in the industry of the need for innovation to spur change in current industry practices.

“There’s a recognition that the current use of marine ingredients is not sustainable for a rapidly growing industry,” Ricardo Garcia, the CEO of Chilean salmon farming firm Camanchaca, told attendees of the session.

Which isn’t to say there haven’t been advancements in the sustainability of aquafeed in recent years and decades. According to Carlos Diaz, CEO of BioMar Group, one of the world’s largest aquafeed companies, FIFO decreased from 1.9 in the 1980s to 1.4 in the 1990s, and down to the range of 1.15 to 1.3 in 2016.

“In 2017, there will be net producers of fish,” Diaz said, meaning a FIFO score under 1.0.

However, demand for farmed fish is expected to double in the next 10 to 15 years, and the world’s forage fish populations may not be able to sustain that level of increased harvesting. Aquafeed companies are therefore looking at alternative solutions – especially fish-free feeds, such as those made with algae, where there have been extraordinary breakthroughs recently.

Working with an algae first discovered in the mangrove swamps of Florida, in the United States, the ingredient company TerraVia has discovered a method of producing long-chain omega-3s, or DHAs, that can augment fish oils currently used in aquafeed. Teaming up with Bunge Limited, TerraVia has created a salmon aquaculture ingredient called AlgaPrime, currently being manufactured in Brazil using sugarcane as a feedstock for the algae.

“Aquaculture is a critical source of protein and nutrition to meet the world’s food needs. Aquaculture’s importance will continue to rise as the world population grows,” Syndel CEO Chris McReynolds said. “With this continued growth and expansion of aquaculture, the need for high performing and nutritious feeds will be imperative to the industry and their ability to deliver to the consumer a high-quality, DHA-rich finished product.”

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