What is the future of fish feeds?

Meeting the demand for human food requirements through aquaculture, while sustainably managing common natural resources

By 2050 an expanded world population will be consuming two thirds more animal protein than it does today, bringing increased pressure on the planets natural resources. It is estimated that more food will be required to be produced in the next 36-years than has been produced in the preceding 8,000 years. Increases in production will need to come from improvements in the efficiency of livestock systems in converting natural resources into food and reducing waste.

However, although farmed fish may convert food more efficiently than livestock both industries are still dependent on the global management of common natural resources, the small pelagic forage fisheries for fish meal and oil, as a component of feed (Hall et al., Blue Frontiers 2011). This is the most obvious dependence on natural resource sustainability, but like other food systems, water quality, climatic stability, soil vitality and other environmental resources must be managed better by humans to meet our future needs.

Skretting, through its parent company Nutreco, has the ambition to make a positive contribution to feeding the world’s growing population in a sustainable way. It is recognised that such a goal can only be achieved with the cooperation of all our supply chain partners. Therefore we aim to establish sustainable relationships with our suppliers and encourage them to adopt sustainable practices. The purpose of our Supplier Code of Conduct is to engage with our suppliers on material sustainability issues relating to their operations, and to set minimum criteria that should be met. We will only source from companies that are willing to comply with our Supplier Code of Conduct and who meet – or can demonstrate they are working towards – the criteria stated in this Code of Conduct.

Alternative ingredients

At present, the only practical source of the desired long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in diets for aquaculture species is fish oil and the fish oil contained within fishmeal. Aquaculture is today utilising 75% of the world’s fish oil resources (FAO 2014) with strong competition coming from the pharmaceutical industry aimed directly for human consumption in the form of fish oil capsules (Tacon and Metian 2009a,b).

The strong competition for fish oil in the global market has incentivised the development of alternative sources of EPA and DHA in recent years. There are two emerging options for the aquaculture industry on the horizon.

First will be the production of EPA and DHA from natural algae in commercial facilities. The immediate challenge is to do this on a commercial scale at a price that is affordable to the feed industry. It is anticipated that this technology will be available in commercial quantities on a 2-4 year time scale.

The second option is adding the genes needed to synthesis EPA and DHA into plants that can be commercially grown as crops. Through a joint collaboration between CSIRO, Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and Nuseed, this technology is currently being trialled, with controlled crops being evaluated in Australia in accordance with the requirements of the Gene Technology Act 2000 and Regulations, corresponding state and territory legislation and consultation with multiple stakeholders. Material from these controlled trials will not enter the feed or food chain. However, it is anticipated that that seeds will be available for commercial production by the end of this decade.

Despite the advancements in this technology, we can see that with this alternative ingredient option there are political, legislative, technical and societal constraints that may limit the use of this alternative ingredient to fish oil.

Third-party standards

The increased scrutiny on the effects aquaculture has on constrained natural and common societal resources is justified. One way to address this is the development of environmental standards and third-party certification systems.

No land-based food production industries have undergone such intense and focused scrutiny as has aquaculture. Aquaculture is the only “center-plate” protein production system with a referenced standard addressing environmental/social impacts.

In 2006, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) embarked on an initiative to create environmental/social standards for nine commodity species of farmed seafood. This global initiative was called the Aquaculture Dialogues. Over an eight year period and almost seven million US dollars invested; the Dialogues involved more than 2,200 multi-stakeholder participants to successfully create standards that the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) now uses to assess and certify farming practices.

In 2013, the Global Salmon Initiative (GSI) was formed, where producers of 70% of the world’s global farmed salmon production agreed to work together in a precompetitive arrangement to resolve the outstanding environmental/social issues and attain ASC-Salmon certification by 2020.

FAO (2014) The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2014. Selected issues in Fisheries and Aquaculture- Part 2. The role of aquaculture in improving nutrition: opportunities and challenges, 106 pp. (Also available at www.fao.org/3/a-i3720e/i3720e02.pdf)

Tacon AGJ, Metian M (2009a) Fishing for aquaculture: Non-food use of small pelagic forage fish – A global perspecitve. Rev. Fish. Sci. 17: 305-317.

Tacon AGJ, Metian M (2009b) Fishing for feed or fishing for food: Increasing global competition for small pelagic forage fish. Ambio 38: 294-302.