Revolutionising aquaculture: A new food source for fish & shrimp with natural marine algae
As the demand for fish and shrimp at the dinner table surges globally, it exerts both pressures and creates an opportunity for the aquaculture industry.
Nowhere is that more evident than the Asia-Pacific region, the epicenter of global aquaculture with eight of the top 10 aquaculture producing countries in the world. Total production of fish and aquatic animals from Asia-Pacific countries reached 122 million tonnes in 2016, a 30-fold increase since 1986. This is more than 71 percent of the global fish and aquatic animal production, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization.1
The key food source for these farmed fish and shrimp is fish meal and fish oil derived from small feeder fish such as sardines, anchovies and sprat. The increased demand for farmed fish is causing unsustainable downstream pressure on feeder fish causing a rise in overfishing, illegal fishing and unregulated fishing. Two-thirds of the world's fish stocks today are either fished at their limit or overfished. Each year, 16 million metric tonnes of wild marine fish are caught solely to produce fish meal and fish oil and 80 percent of that fish oil goes directly to feed aquaculture fish.
This is an untenable situation as the demand for seafood as a food source continues to grow rapidly around the globe. Seafood has a smaller carbon footprint than other animal proteins on average because fishing does not require farmland or care of livestock.
Seafood for macronutrients
This is particularly true in Asia where fish and shrimp are an especially important source of food being fulfilled by aquaculture. The industry provides 24 kg per capita of food fish for people in Asia compared to the global average of 20 kg.2
Fish and shrimp are not just important as food sources, but also as a key source of essential nutrient omega-3 oils of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Long-chain fatty acids EPA and DHA in fish and shrimp are necessary for brain health and development as well as reducing risks of serious health conditions such as heart disease, cancer, eye disease and arthritis. So much so that the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends regular fish consumption of one to two servings per week or an equivalent of 200 to 500 mg of EPA and DHA.3
Supply and demand
The aquaculture sustainability problem has now become one of supply and demand. Human demand for fish protein as part of a healthy, balanced diet has led to aquaculture industry growth of more than three percent a year. At the same time, the global supply of fish oil derived from the wild marine fish is declining at two percent per year. The burden aquaculture puts on marine life is currently unsustainable.
This is why alternative solutions for feeding aquaculture fish and shrimp are emerging and companies are creating sustainable and natural products that can replace wild-derived fish oil in farmed fish feedstock.
A new solution in the form of natural marine algal oil developed by Veramaris, a joint venture between life science giants DSM and Evonik, is said to replace the fish oil EPA and DHA derived from wild-caught feeder fish. This algal oil provides farmed fish the essential omega-3 EPA and DHA fatty acids those fish need for health and growth and passing along those same omega-3 benefits to consumers.
The natural marine algae convert corn sugar into an algal oil rich in both EPA and DHA at consistent and high concentrations. Algal oil for farmed fish feed not only helps conserve marine life, but also offers a standardised way to regulate and determine the amount of omega-3 fatty acids that consumers will get from the farmed fish. Now, there is no need to be wholly dependent and continue to harvest wild-caught fish from the oceans for omega-3 to feed to farmed seafood, to feed to humans. This helps shortens the food chain effectively and provides peace of mind. Because of its known provenance, there is less need to be concerned about llegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) or overfishing.
This is important because as demand for farm-raised fish and shrimp has grown, many fish farmers have had to lower the amount of fish oil they feed to aquaculture salmon because of the finite availability of this natural resource. The decrease has created a deficit in the amount of the important omega-3 EPA and DHA levels in fish and shrimp sold to consumers.
In Norway, two Norwegian salmon farmers are using Veramaris algal oil and have dramatically increased their EPA and DHA levels.
While the use of algal oil is starting to become more established in cold water salmon farming, it is just beginning in Asia-Pacific. Veramaris has begun to reach out to key shrimp industry players in Thailand and Indonesia, and with fish industry representatives in Vietnam and India, and is working with NGOs and research institutes to discuss its aquaculture feed solution.
The importance of working with all stakeholders—farmers, feed producers, fish processors, retailers and NGOs—is critical in listening to each other’s views to facilitate rapid adoption of this technology towards helping to conserve marine biodiversity together, said Veramaris CEO Karim Kurmaly.
This breakthrough innovation does cost more than current market offerings but creates greater value for the value chain. It is a superior solution, much richer in both EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids and enables the aquaculture industry to decrease its reliance on wild-caught feeder fish and become a net fish producer – the holy grail of the aquaculture industry.
It is important that all stakeholders—farmers, feed producers, fish processors, retailers and NGOs— are critical in listening to each other’s views to facilitate rapid adoption of this technology towards helping to conserve marine biodiversity, secure sustainable growth of the aquaculture industry, and provide nutritionally healthy seafood to consumers together.
As Piers Hart, aquaculture policy officer at World Wildlife Fund UK, said, “These are huge issues for the future of mankind, and in fact, it will not be possible to keep expanding the production of livestock feed using our present systems to feed a population of 9 billion. There simply is not enough land or freshwater. Farming the sea is a potential solution, but not if the feed is produced ... in the way we do it now."4
Karim Kurmaly is the CEO of Veramaris.