Would you risk losing one of your top customers, a leading national retailer and a pioneer in the natural-foods market, to increase the sustainability profile of your product in the eyes of consumers? That's essentially what Kona Blue Water Farms decided to do a few weeks ago when it changed the formulation of its fish feed to reduce its dependence on fishmeal and fish oil sourced from wild stocks such as Peruvian anchovies. It was a sacrifice the Hawaii company made willingly.
A little background: In 2006, Kona Blue, producers of Kona Kampachi®, a yellowtail relative, reduced the percentage of fishmeal/fish oil in its feed from 80 percent to 50 percent. About six months ago, the percentage was cut again to 30 percent. Company President Neil Sims told me on Friday that just a few weeks ago the company decided to reduce the percentage even further to 20 percent. To make up for the loss of essential nutrients like amino acids, the feed now contains a blend of fishmeal, poultry meal and oil made from byproducts and other ingredients like soybeans.
According to Ken Peterson, communications director for the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Kona Kampachi is due to have its "good alternative" rating made official on the Seafood Watch Web site and pocket guides sometime this fall. Sims sees the value in a good rating from MBA and is setting his sights higher. With a feed formula that is 20 percent fishmeal/fish oil, he hopes to attain a 1:1 ratio - or 1 pound of wild fish in for every pound of farmed-fish fillets out. Achieving this ratio may earn kampachi a "best choice" rating from MBA. Even more important, the kampachi's performance and product quality has not suffered.
"The fact that this is achievable is a huge step forward for this industry and should change the tone in the debate about the ecological viability of growing fish in the ocean," says Sims.
While a higher rating from an influential consumer-based seafood-buying guide should open new doors for kampachi, the inclusion of animal byproduct in the feed has already closed one. Whole Foods Market dropped the fish from its shelves because, as Sims says, many of its customers are vegetarians that still eat fish - but wouldn't if the fish were fed land-based animal products.
To Sims, however, the planet is far more important than one customer, even if it is Whole Foods.
"It's important to us as an industry and [also] to us as a planet, to make better use of more scaleable sources of oil," says Sims, who adds that kampachi is now available at Bristol Farms locations throughout Southern California. "If we're going to increase the scale of open-ocean aquaculture, we can't do it on the backs of Peruvian anchovetta."
Sustainability can't be achieved without sacrifice; and certainly not without innovative companies like Kona Blue leading the way.