International Team of Scientists Exploring Use of Algae for Aquaculture Feedstock

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

“Phycology is the scientific study of algae,” explained Karen Tal a project leader for Fycology who oversees branding and marketing. “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.

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.

Industry Relies on Fishmeal and Oil

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. 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.

This view from an oil platform 35 miles off Texas shows a prototype submerged net pen for raising fish. 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. Photo:Russell Miget/Texas Sea Grant
This view from an oil platform 35 miles off Texas shows a prototype submerged net pen for raising fish. 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. Photo:Russell Miget/Texas Sea Grant

Backed in part by the Mexican government, and with research being done at two Mexican universities, 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.According to Tal, Fycology was established in order to create a sustainable algae fish feed for aquaculture using an alternative such as algae.

“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,” said Tal. “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, 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.

“Aquaculture will need to supply increasing demands for seafood because the wild harvest is close to its limit,” said Michael B. Rust, Ph.D., the science coordinator for NOAA Fisheries Office of Aquaculture. Photo: NOAA
“Aquaculture will need to supply increasing demands for seafood because the wild harvest is close to its limit,” said Michael B. Rust, Ph.D., the science coordinator for NOAA Fisheries Office of Aquaculture. Photo: NOAA

“Aquaculture will need to supply increasing demands for seafood because the wild harvest is close to its limit,” said Michael B. Rust, Ph.D., the science coordinator for National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Office of Aquaculture. “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. 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.

Algae – a Sustainable Protein Source

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,” explained Tal. “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.

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.

“Algae, also known as seaweed, do not always attract marine fish,” explained Tal. “That is one reason some fish oil especially is needed to attract the fish.” Photo: Fycology
“Algae, also known as seaweed, do not always attract marine fish,” explained Tal. “That is one reason some fish oil especially is needed to attract the fish.” Photo: Fycology

“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.  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,” explained Rust about a possible solution for fertilizer runoff polluting the Mississippi River tributary system and resulting in dead zones in the Gulf. “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.”

The company grows the algae with samples coming from its universities and gracilaria (red algae) from the wild. Photo: NOAA
The company grows the algae with samples coming from its universities and gracilaria (red algae) from the wild. Photo: NOAA

“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. “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.”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.

According to the 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,” said the NOAA scientist.

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.

“Ocean aquaculture is part of our future,” said Bob Gill of the Gulf Seafood Institute. “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.”

 

Photo caption: World aquaculture is at a crossroads regarding one of its largest issues, fish in for fish out ratios. This open ocean auqapod demonstration is taking place off Puerto Rico. Photo: Snapperfarm

View original article at: International Team of Scientists Exploring Use of Algae for Aquaculture Feedstock

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