Fish feed developments in aquaculture

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On 15 October in St Petersburg, Russia, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations’ (FAO) Aquaculture Sub-Committee agreed to the creation of the Global Aquaculture Advancement Partnership (GAAP). This partnership is good news for aquaculture, including the farming of fish, shellfish and aquatic plants, because it will ensure continued development of this global industry. GAAP will bring governments, UN agencies, NGOs and the private sector together. Subject to approval by the FAO Committee on Fisheries in June 2014, it aims to enable the industry to meet the growing demand for fish in a sustainable manner.

Aquaculture producers currently supply 47% of food fish globally. It is the world’s fastest growing food production industry; this year it overtook beef for the first time. The EU’s dependency on seafood imports is high, currently accounting for around 70% of our consumption. However, aquaculture growth rates are slowly beginning to decrease in Europe. The reform of the Common Fisheries Policy is intended to boost European aquaculture and help increase the sector’s production and competitiveness.

A change in law may help improve the European aquaculture industry. Since 1 June this year, fish feed companies have been able to include a wider variety of animal products in their source proteins. This can help take the pressure off stocks of wild fish that might be used otherwise. The Commission has now allowed non-ruminant processed animal proteins (PAPs) to be used in fish feed. Ruminants are animals whose stomachs have several chambers, like sheep and cows. Non-ruminant animal proteins may come from poultry and pork to replace protein in feed that is currently sourced from fish and soya. Those processed under high EU standards have been cleared as ‘safe’ by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

Including animal protein in fish feed may also increase the sustainability of the EU aquaculture industry. Carnivorous aquaculture species, such as salmon, require a diet very high in protein and the conversion ratios of wild to farmed fish tend to be high. This means a lot of wild fish is required for a relatively small amount of farmed salmon. Fish meal can be made solely from wild-fish, or in combination with by-catch or fish trimmings. There was a seven-fold increase in the global capture of wild fish for fish meal and fish oil production between 1950 and 2007 due growth in the aquaculture sector. With the FAO recently estimating that 57.4% of fish stocks are fully exploited, and another 29.9% over-exploited, increasing fishing pressure is not the solution. Animal proteins may provide a suitable alternative, alleviate fishing pressure on wild species and increase the overall sustainability of EU aquaculture.

Consumer acceptance of fish fed on animal protein may nevertheless be limited, and this decision has not met with universal acceptance. This is despite many imported farmed fish consumed in the EU being produced in areas that do use animal protein in their feeds. Alternative sources of animal protein are also being investigated. Recently, a number of enterprises looking into developing insect based feeds have started up. Insects represent a more ‘natural’ source of protein so consumer acceptance may be higher. Results so far suggest they are a viable replacement for at least 50% of the protein in a fish meal-based diet. Costs are still too high for commercial use in the aquaculture industry, but may be reduced following increases in the scale of manufacture. Another unusual alternative being researched by chemical engineers in Scotland are co-products from whisky manufacture.

Our SSC members are working together towards harmonised labelling and the responsible sourcing of fish and seafood through voluntary codes of conduct.

Article: Rebecca Giesler   Image: Ingo Meyer
This blog was updated on 14/12/2016.