By Jason Holland, SeafoodSource contributing editor reporting from London
Published on 17 October, 2013
The aquaculture industry has never been one to bellow its achievements from the rooftops, it’s only when the sector gathers together that it becomes clear just how far it has come in what is a relatively short period of time, particularly when benchmarked against thousands of years of land-based farming.
At the Global Aquaculture Alliance’s (GAA) GOAL 2013 conference, held earlier this month in Paris, delegates learned the rate of total aquaculture production growth is slowing, but it was made abundantly clear that innovation isn’t.
James Anderson, head of the World Bank’s global program on fisheries and aquaculture, said that disease is the biggest risk to aquaculture production, saying it undermines all other risks as well as market development and financing.
In this regard, most likely it’s shrimp farming that is currently suffering the most as a result of the Early Mortality Syndrome (EMS) that has devastated production sites across Asia and has sent prices soaring as a result. Thankfully, Dr. Donald Lightner of the University of Arizona and other speakers revealed there had been significant breakthroughs in the understanding of EMS this past year, including the identification of the disease’s environmental trigger.
Lightner said that a new polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique, which amplifies DNA sequences, is being developed. He expects this will lead to a diagnostic kit, which will be distributed to EMS affected regions and said that in the future, stricter controls on the transfer of untested animals and better, more collaborative disease management will prevent other such problems from getting out of control.
While the average Joe is oblivious to the diseases, cures and/or preventative measures that put the aquaculture industry to the test, and that’s probably a good thing, the use of wild fish in fish feeds does on occasion cross into mainstream consumer awareness. Again thankfully, conference sessions confirmed that bold strides have been made in fish feeds too.
When it’s discussed in broader circles, the out-of-date wild feed fish to farmed salmon conversion ratio of 5:1 is all-too-often quoted, despite the truer ratio being 1.4:1 and getting ever-closer to 1:1, said Andrew Mallison, director general of the International Fishmeal and Fish Oil Organization (IFFO).
Furthermore, looking at all commercially farmed species, the average fish in: fish out (FIFO) ratio is 0.3:1, he said. In other words, three kilos of seafood for human consumption are produced from every single kilo of fish that goes to manufacture feed. Compare that to the eating behavior of carnivorous fish in wild habitats, which will consume as much as 10:1, said Mallison.
There has been considerable innovation in shrimp feeds, confirmed Robins McIntosh, senior vice-president of Charoen Pokphand Foods Public Co. Ltd. (CP Foods).
SeafoodSource readers will recall that in February this year CP Foods was singled out by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in his attack on the shrimp feed industry and its use of so-called “trash fish” in cheap fish feeds, which the U.K. campaigning chef delivered through his “Fish Fight: Save Our Seas” TV program.
In response to Fish Fight, CP Foods created a 10-point plan, which includes a commitment to actively reduce the amount of fishmeal in its shrimp feed. But this isn’t a new strategy, said McIntosh. In 2001, the company was using between 30 and 35 percent fishmeal, by 2008 it was 20 percent and in 2013 it is 10 percent. At the same time its FIFO is now below 1:1.
Also in its plan, CP Foods is committed to zero use of fishmeal in its shrimp diet by 2021. This could become a reality as early as 2017, said McIntosh.
It’s possible today to completely replace all the fishmeal in shrimp diets with vegetable-based proteins and by using genetically-selected shrimp families that grow better on all-vegetable diets, he said.
“With vegetable-only diets we are a lot better off than we were 10 years ago with fishmeal. We lose a little bit relative to where we are now with fishmeal, but it’s a satisfactory performance from a commercial perspective.”
For the time being, fishmeal still represents a better economic ingredient for CP Foods.
“If there is sustainable fishmeal and it’s reasonably priced we will use it,” said McIntosh, but added that if circumstances change then the work the company is doing today gives it “the option” of going without fishmeal.
While new sources of feed proteins will continue to be examined — at GOAL, for example, delegates learned about the latest research into the viability of insect meal — the Peruvian anchovy quota for the November 2013 through January 2014 season of 2.3 million metric tons, an increase of 180 percent on last year’s corresponding season, eases immediate pressures on the feed industry.
Still, in his keynote address, titled “Blue is the New Green,” Ole-Eirik Leroy, chairman of Marine Harvest, stressed that more food needs to come from the sea.
“As much as 70 percent of the globe is covered in water but only 2 percent of the world’s food supply comes from the ocean,” he said. “We also need to produce protein more efficiently and fish has the potential to do this.”
Leroy believes that in the next three to four years there will be a global focus on water utilization.
“This is when the aquaculture industry will really come into its own,” he said.