Huge Marketing Potential For Algae Based Aquaculture Feedstock

World aquaculture is at a crossroads regarding one of its largest issues, fish in for fish out ratios.

         Ed Lallo with the Gulf Seafood Institute reports approximately one third of the world’s fish catch is used to produce fishmeal and fish oil used as feedstock in the aquaculture industry according to the World Wildlife Fund. An international team of scientists and fishermen in the Southern Gulf of Mexico are working to find environmentally safe solutions to the growing need for aquaculture feedstock.

         Karen Tal, a project leader for Fycology who oversees branding and marketing, told Lallo, “Phycology is the scientific study of algae. Our team is working on developing breakthrough biotechnology advances in the field of aquaculture. The importance of creating a sustainable fish feed is the first step in establishing sustainable fish for our consumption and the preservations of our oceans. After all it is clear our survival is dependent on the survival of the oceans and the life it contains.”

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         Lallo reports fish feed is one of the most important items on any aquaculture farm. Quality protein is vital to the quality of the feed, and fishmeal and even soy are unsustainable options. If the quality of the feed is not ideal, then various health problems, as well as growth complications, can result in the fish.

         In recent years the industry’s reliance on fishmeal and fish oil has decreased due to increased use of plant-based feed from major agricultural crops like soybean and corn, Lallo found. However, with rising and volatile commodity prices fueled by pressures on agricultural land use and a changing climate, reliance on such crops can prove risky and expensive for the aquaculture industry.

         Lallo reports according to Tal, Fycology was established in order to create a sustainable algae fish feed for aquaculture using an alternative such as algae.

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         Backed in part by the Mexican government, and with research being done at two Mexican universities, Lallo reports the project’s goal is to reduce reliance on captured marine fish proteins and oils for feed. Studies have shown that animals and fish consuming consistent, high quality food sources grow at a healthy rate and contain better overall nutrition, generating higher quality food for humans.

          “Understanding the importance of preserving the oceans and the life they contain, as well as producing an alternative quality vegetarian protein, are the two pillars for this project,” Tal told Lallo. “The growing world population and the consumption of fish have caused fish depletion from the oceans and the growth of the aquaculture industry. New food technology is needed in order to ensure the adequate supply of healthy sustainable marine fish as well as sustainable feed for these fish.”

         Commercial fish farms rely on feeds that now include fishmeal as a major source of protein and oil. If fish don’t eat well, Lallo found, they won’t grow and thrive. Therefore, using alternative sustainable protein options, as we are using algae, in sufficient quantities to become standard components of fish diets is a key research priority.

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         Michael B. Rust, Ph.D., the science coordinator for NOAA Fisheries Office of Aquaculture, told Lallo, “Aquaculture will need to supply increasing demands for seafood because the wild harvest is close to its limit. Protein and oil from seaweeds could be a nice complement to soy and fish products as demand for feed grows for aquaculture and traditional farm animals.”

         Fish are picky about their feed, Lallo reports. Algae may have the potential to replace fishmeal completely in some fish feed and perhaps replace some fish oils. The research requires an understanding of an ingredient’s nutritional value, its ability to blend with other ingredients, its effect on pellet stability, as well as its appeal to fish.

         Lallo reports according to Tal, algae have the potential to be a sustainable source of protein for the feed for fish. It is known for its superior quality, high source of vitamins as well as high protein content. It also protects the integrity of the food destined for the consumer’s table.

          “Algae, also known as seaweed, do not always attract marine fish,” Tal told Lallo. “That is one reason some fish oil especially is needed to attract the fish. The algae protein is also much cleaner than using fishmeal, which can have very high levels of mercury, dioxins, pcbs, and other toxins.  If fish eat less of this and more algae, they also will be better and contain less of these toxins.”

         Lallo reports this project aims to develop a suitable food formula for predator marine fish based on spirulina and graceliria. Red Drum is being used as the projects study fish since it grows fast and requires a large amount of quality protein. The company grows the algae with samples coming from its universities and gracilaria (red algae) from the wild.

         “Seaweed farms have the benefits of not needing land or freshwater, absorbing nutrients and carbon dioxide from the ocean and giving off oxygen to the ocean,” Rust told Lallo about a possible solution for fertilizer runoff polluting the Mississippi River tributary system and resulting in dead zones in the Gulf. “The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is currently the size of a small eastern state due to excess nutrients leading to oxygen depletion. This new technology could be used to soak up those nutrients and add oxygen. Not only would you have a high quality product and economic benefits, you may also improve the ecosystem for wild stocks and reduce the dead zone.”

         Lallo reports the marketing potential is huge for a formula that considerably lowers the percentage of fishmeal and fish oil in feed by replacing it with algae proteins. This will assist aquaculture farms and feed companies in both an economic and sustainable manner.

          “Algae are the basic starting block for the growing of life in water, they provide an ideal blend of the vital proteins, carbohydrates, and vitamins to grow healthy, hearty animals and aquaculture,” Tal explained to Lallo. “Algae may have the potential to replace fishmeal completely in some fish feed and perhaps replace a substantial portion of fish oils, it therefore plays a crucial role in aquaculture. The incentive to invest in this new process is access to intellectual technology to enter and advance existing markets with formula alternatives.”

         Lallo reports according to Rust, there is growing interest in algae farming in New England and on the West coast, but currently there are no Gulf activities outside of the Mexican research. “I cannot think of a region that would benefit more from seaweed farming than the Gulf of Mexico,” Rust told Lallo.

         Lallo reports the project is supported by the Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (National Council of Science and Technology), Mexico’s governmental organization in charge of the promotion of scientific and technological activities. TPAC, a Mexican company already successful producing fish food with minimal fishmeal, and Incubadora, a Mexican farm and hatchery operation, have also invested in the project.

          Bob Gill of the Gulf Seafood Institute told Lallo, “Ocean aquaculture is part of our future. To make it environmentally acceptable requires approaches such as this to be viable and self sustaining. The current implementation of the aquaculture plan for the Gulf of Mexico provides the structure for moving forward and in conjunction with innovative research such as this holds much promise for the future.”

         – by Ed Lallo for the Gulf Seafood Institute

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