Fish feed industry changing as aquaculture takes on larger global role

Published on
September 16, 2016

Salmon will soon replace shrimp as the largest single global seafood commodity in terms of value. That stunning fact will have sizeable repercussions in the global seafood industry.

Perhaps no sector will have as big of a challenge on their hands as fish feed manufacturers, who are being asked to supply high-quality feed to salmon farms around the world while at the same time reducing the industry’s fish-in, fish-out ratio. One of the biggest challenges faced by the fish feed industry is the need to make optimal use of the approximately five million metric tons of fishmeal and one million metric tons of fish oil it consumes each year, and to find non-marine and other alternatives that meet the nutritional needs of both fish and humans.

Fortunately, promising scientific research is opening a new and more sustainable path forward for fish feed. New research from IFFO, the fish feed trade group, and the University of Stirling, in the United Kingdom, points to the potential use of more seafood byproduct as a solution to cost and supply issues.

Led by Professor Dave Little, their recently completed project uses models of current and future fisheries and aquaculture production, based on data from the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), to provide estimates for the future availability of raw material for marine ingredient production. It also estimates the availability of the essential fatty acids EPA and DHA.

The model confirms a current under-utilization of byproduct from both fisheries and aquaculture. Currently, around 20 million metric tons (MT) of raw material are used annually for the production of fishmeal and fish oil, with around 14 million MT of that coming from whole fish. Around 3.7 million MT of byproduct comes from the wild fish processing sector, with Europe producing around 1.2 million MT of the total. An estimated 1.9 million MT comes from aquaculture, 0.8 million MT of which originates mainly from Vietnam and Thailand.

IFFO Technical Director Neil Auchterlonie explained that there are pressures on raw material supply, such as those now affecting Peruvian anchovetta, which suffered a recent poor fishing season attributed to the lasting effects of an el Niño event. With such events potentially becoming more common due to environmental factors, any increased use of byproduct is helpful in supporting global supply of fishmeal and fish oil, he said.

According to the new model, an estimated 35 million MT of byproduct is currently available for marine ingredients production, should every available scrap be collected. That total is expected to increase to 45 million MT available in 10 years’ time. This higher available yield will come principally from the growth of aquaculture, particularly in Asia. Fish oil is predicted to grow more slowly than fishmeal, as future contributions from aquaculture are likely to include increasing proportions of farmed freshwater species, which have a low-oil yield.

The FAO estimates come from the latest edition of its report, “The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture,” also known as SOFIA, which shows that per capita seafood intake has doubled since the 1960s to reach 20 kilograms.

The report shows that aquaculture is now firmly influencing the type of seafood we eat and SOFIA shows that salmon and trout are the largest single commodity in terms of value, a spot that was held by shrimp for decades. Interestingly, from the 1960s through today, the global supply of fish for human consumption has outpaced population growth, largely due to the growth in aquaculture. Global aquaculture production is now in excess of 73.8 million MT, which was its total in 2014, the last year from which data is available.

More marine aquaculture means a greater need for feed, and while fortunately for food security and environmental sustainability, around half of the world's aquaculture production is from non-fed species, including shellfish, carps and plants such as seaweeds and microalgae, the popularity of fed species such as salmon continues to rise globally.

The SOFIA report concludes that that one of the best opportunities to improve the sustainability of the fish supply chain is through use of byproduct in fishmeal for aquaculture.

According to Auchterlonie, utilizing byproduct from processing will not be without logistical issues. First and foremost will be the effort needed to ensure a cost-effective solution to collecting and transporting raw material. Another problem is the fact that the most potential for increased raw material is in Asia, where conservation efforts are less prominent as and sustainability accreditation programs have less of a footprint. To ameliorate this situation, Auchterlonie said effort is being made to encourage IFFO Responsible Supply (RS)-assured and Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification in these regions.

Despite the challenges facing the fish feed industry as it moves into this new phase of its development, Auchterlonie is confident solutions will be found and the industry will increase both its environmental sustainability and its profits.

“In the fullness of time I believe that we will solve all the issues and that byproduct will make a more valuable contribution to the fishmeal industry,” Auchterlonie said. “In the meantime, it has been interesting for me to look at the potential origins of future byproduct and how those may change. In Asia, for instance, we may find that with a growing middle class there is a move away from preparing whole fish at home, to secondary processing and the purchase of ready-prepared fillets. This in turn could provide more centralization of raw material for processing into fishmeal. This is something we could not have foreseen a decade ago, but with greater wealth comes greater choice.”

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