F3, IFFO dispute availability, affordability, impact of fish-free feed

The Future of Fish Feed’s Feed Innovation Network is calling for greater acceptance of fish-free aquafeed, citing the results of recent research.

The Future of Fish Feed’s Feed Innovation Network (F3), a collaborative effort between NGOs, academic institutions, and private partnerships, has long been a primary proponent of the commercialization of innovative, substitute aquaculture feed ingredients to replace aquafeed made from wild-caught fish.

Since 2015, it has run the F3 Fish-Free Feed Challenge, a contest to innovate and sell fish-free feed to the aquaculture industry. Its latest challenge targets three categories – salmonids, shrimp, and other carnivorous species – with a USD 100,000 (EUR 93,307) prize awarded to the company that sells the greatest portion of fish-free feed in each category.

On 25 May, F3 announced at the halfway point of the competition, the leader of the salmonid category is Star Milling Co./The Scoular Company, the shrimp category leader is Empagran/Veramaris, and the other carnivorous species category leader is the Dainichi Corporation.

“The goal of the F3 – Future of Fish Feed is to assure greater global food security by reducing the aquaculture industry’s reliance on fishmeal and fish oil derived from small forage fish such as menhaden and sardines and to future-proof it against shocks to the supply chain,” F3 said in a press release. “Reliance on wild-caught resources threatens the ability to grow many aquacultured species because the supply of small fish fluctuates globally and without any changes in technology, are slated to reach ecological limits by 2037. Reliance on wild-caught resources also threatens wild-caught commercial fisheries, such as tuna, salmon, and cod, since these larger fish depend on smaller fish for their sustenance. Since aquacultured and wild-caught seafood comprises the entire supply of seafood, finding nutritionally equivalent alternatives to small fish is important for maintaining the supply of seafood globally.”

Separately, F3 recently released the results of a study conducted by a group of researchers at Texas A&M University on feeding of largemouth bass – a major species in Chinese aquaculture, which produces approximately 500,000 metric tons (MT) of the fish per year. During the 10-week feeding trial conducted in a recirculating aquaculture system, researchers compared weight gain, survival rates, feed-conversion ratio, and fillet quality of largemouth bass fish fed with a diet free of fishmeal and fish oil against feeds produced by two commercial feeds – the Huifu brand produced by Xinxin Tian'en Company in China, and the Alltech Coppens brand produced in Holland.

“At the end of the trial, all fish fed the experimental fishmeal and fish-oil free diets had similar weight-gain and survival rates, matching those fed the Xinxin brand commercial feed. The Coppens commercial feed had the lowest growth and survival rates. The experimental diets also had excellent feed-conversion ratios,” the study found.

The study, published in Aquaculture Research, concluded that fish fed experimental feeds without fishmeal or fish oil had higher DHA-to-EPA ratios than those fed commercial feeds, with algae oil having the highest ratio. DHA and EPA ratios are commonly used in Chinese marketing as a measure of the health benefits of seafood. Alltech and Xinxin Tian’en Co did not respond to requests from SeafoodSource for comment on the study.

F3 said the study shows total replacement of fishmeal and fish oil in largemouth bass feed is both feasible and economically viable, and its use could reduce pressure on forage fish populations. Soy is currently selling for half the price of fishmeal, which has increased 3.4-fold in price over the last 20 years, while soy prices have risen 2.8-fold over the same timeframe. alternatives to fish oil, such as soybean and canola oils, are on average less expensive as well and can be blended with other plant-based oils to meet fish nutritional needs, the report found.

“This will also come as good news for fish farmers in China at a time when consumers are shifting their appetites toward high-value species like largemouth bass that consume large amounts of fishmeal and fish oil,” Ewen McLean, the lead author of the study and principal at consultancy Aqua Cognoscenti, said. “Switching to locally sourced and often cheaper feed ingredients could help put more money in the pockets of fish-farmers.”

However, IFFO, The Marine Ingredients Organization, a trade group representing the global aquafeed sector, has questioned whether it will be feasible to fully replace all aquafeed consumed globally with fish-free alternatives. IFFO said while it is “convinced” that all feed ingredients have their role to play in supporting the growth of the aquaculture sector, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has said “fishmeal and fish oil are still considered the most-nutritious and most-digestible ingredients for farmed fish, as well as the major source of omega-3 fatty acids.”

IFFO said while it sees a place for alternative feeds, scale and affordability remain challenges.

“The challenge here remains as to how we can effectively implement these technologies at a scale to sustain the rate needed to provide those nutrients and to deliver this at a cost-point competitive in the marketplace based on their nutrient density. An additional priority moving forward is to also achieve this with a minimal ecological footprint and by embracing life-cycle assessment analysis as transparent platform by which equitable comparisons can be made across all feed resources,” it said. “The future of the aquaculture feed sector relies on the need for an approach with increasing circularity in resource use coupled with the application of some new novel tech to supply the bulk nutrients required to sustain that growth.”

IFFO also questioned the comparative carbon footprint of soy-based feed compared with that of traditional aquafeed. F3 said having a third party develop complete life-cycle analyses would be the “very best way” to compare various aquaculture-related feed industries with totally different production schemes.

“The fact is that removing wild fish from the ocean burns fossil fuels, which costs several times as much as growing oil seeds that are fixing carbon dioxide, with the granted use of tractor and truck fuel to tend and transport,” it said. “This lead to the question [of] which uses more fuel and has a greater carbon footprint?”

Most soy and other oil seed crops are grown on agricultural lands that have been in row crop production for hundreds of years, F3 said. Algae oil companies, it added, “have a minimal carbon footprint compared to the fishmeal or fish oil industry or the traditional soy farming industries.”

“The fishmeal industry’s argument is largely that cutting rainforest in the Amazon or filling in wetlands in the Pantanal in Brazil to grow soy has a greater carbon footprint than large diesel engine vessels going out to sea to scoop up pelagic fish, and then burning lots of fuel to cook and dry the product,” an F3 spokesperson said in a statement to SeafoodSource. “However, soy from these regions is a small fraction of the worldwide production and many major aquafeed companies have pledged not to source soy products from there.”

Photo courtesy of Future of Fish


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