F3 challenge aims to spur innovation in development of sustainable fish feed

Published on
January 17, 2017

A contest with grand ambitions of improving the sustainability of fish feed used in aquaculture is driving innovation amongst feed manufacturers.

The Fish-Free Feed (F3) challenge was created in 2016 to accelerate the development of aquaculture diets made without fish or fish oil. Eight teams have entered the challenge, competing against each other to be the first to sell 100,000 metric tons of their feed by 15 September, 2017. If none has reached that threshold within the allotted time, the group that has sold the most feed by the end-date wins the grand prize, which is USD 200,000 (EUR ), according to the competition’s organizers.

Supported through crowdfunding and sponsorship from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the New England Aquarium, the University of Arizona and the World Bank, the contest is designed to generate new ideas to combat the depletion of wild-caught forage fisheries, such as anchovies and krill, which are used as feed in most aquaculture as a way to bolster levels of essential oils and protein in farmed-raised fish.

Kevin Fitzsimmons, an environmental sciences professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson, serves as chairman of the contest committee. He said he hopes the contests results in the creation financial backing of new feed formulations by building bridges between alternative-ingredient manufacturers and investors who can help smaller companies scale up production.

“There’s a lot of research going on out there, the problem is getting the word out in the industry and getting people to recognize that all kinds of ingredients – single-cell proteins, algal extracts or insect meals – could be used instead of fish,” Fitzsimmons said.

California, U.S.A-based TerraVia has entered a rainbow trout feed into the F3 challenge, teaming up with feed company Star Milling and TwoXSea, a fish wholesaler based in San Francisco. The algae-based feed also contains flax oil and pistachio meal, designed to provide omega-3 essential fatty acids from non-animal sources.

TwoXSea cofounder Bill Foss, a former tech sector executive, also helped open a seafood restaurant that serves sustainable seafood. Foss recently started sourcing farmed trout raised on a plant-based diet, a process he terms “renewable” rather than sustainable.

“We want to be involved in things that can be replicated, so that generations from now we’ll still have access to the same fish,” he said “Every consumer needs to start making educated decisions and take some responsibility – not just on farmed fish."

Walter Rakitsky, TerraVia’s senior vice president of emerging business, said about 400,000 metric tons of fish oil go into feeds for farmed salmon and trout annually around the globe, and Rakitsky estimates that every ton of his company’s algae-derived feed saves about 40 tons of wild-caught fish.

Belgian-based TomAlgae has also entered the competition with a feed for shrimp seedlings that incorporates microalgae.

By growing a specific diatom under carefully controlled conditions, they take the guesswork out of nutrition and avoid contamination with pathogens that can reduce the nutritional value of this food source. Under ideal conditions, about 100 grams of the freeze-dried micro-algae (which is rehydrated before use) could feed one million shrimp larvae and produce about 15 tons of shrimp meat, company cofounder William van der Riet said.

“We want to replace the live algae used in hatcheries,” van der Riet said. “There is an enormous technology gap in the early stages. They rely on a very artisinal way of producing their own feed when they should be relying on feed with quality that is consistent from day to day.”

A third contestant in the F3 challenge is Australia-based Ridley Corporation, which has entered a feed designed for prawns. Ridley’s feed uses an ingredient created by the company called Novacq, boosts growth performance, enhances disease resistance and reduces waste, according to Sunil Kadri, head of business development at Ridley.

“We’ve been looking at sustainable feed strategies for many years, so the thinking behind the competition matches ours really well,” Kadri said. “Whether or not we win, we want to be part of this international movement and work with like-minded people and companies; this competition gives us that opportunity.”

Kadri is looking forward to a round of meet-ups with fellow competitors, industry experts, and investors that will take place later this month.

“Having all these companies talking to each other and using a fish-free diet — that’s a success unto itself,” contest chair Fitzsimmons said.

A global population approaching nine billion people, and the accelerating growth of the world’s aquaculture industry, which is growing at about eight percent annually, is adding a sense of urgency to the drive to create and encourage the adoption of more sustainable fish feeds, he said. From a business perspective, with fishing of many wild-caught forage species already at or near maximum sustainable yields, it’s only a matter of time before finding an viable alternative becomes necessary for the aquaculture industry, Fitzsimmons said.

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