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INTERVIEW: Wild-caught Fishmeal & Fish Oil Is on Its Way Out

Source: Feedindo Logo Final

July 22 2021 - An increasing number of industry experts believe we are witnessing the beginning of the end for wild-caught fishmeal and oil as new, sustainable, and novel ingredients are able to offer requisite nutrients without further impacting dwindling fish stocks.

According to IFFO, The Marine Ingredients Organisation, production numbers of fishmeal and fish oil have remained steady over many years of aquaculture and aquafeed growth; global aquaculture production has continued to rise between 5-7% annually since the turn of the century.

For Kevin Fitzsimmons, director of International Initiatives and professor at the University of Arizona, the statistics from the IFFO only highlight what he and many others are growing increasingly sure of: the plateau in the production of fishmeal and oil indicates falling inclusion rates in a growing aquaculture and aquafeed market.

Fitzsimmons believes this has increasingly opened up space for alternative ingredients. As chair of the F3 Challenge, a multi-stage contest to innovate and sell fish-free feed for the aquaculture industry, he is in a position to have seen and supported the growth of such ingredients.

Feedinfo spoke to Mr Fitzsimmons to find out more about the trends behind the reduction of fishmeal and fish oil use and the emergence of novel ingredient categories. His responses below have been edited and condensed.

Kevin Fitzsimmons

Director of International Initiatives & Professor at the University of Arizona

[Feedinfo] What, do you believe, will be the biggest drivers in the reduction of fishmeal and fish oil use in commercial aquaculture? Do you expect it to reach a point where it is never used, or itself becomes a novel ingredient? 

[Fitzsimmons] I expect that wild-caught fishmeal and fish oil is on the way out. Meal and oil derived from processed farmed seafood will be with us long into the future. The biggest driver of the rapid reduction of wild-caught fish meal and oil has been, and will continue to be, the increase in costs of the product along with decline in wild catch. The costs to go and harvest continue to rise; fuel, labour, docking fees, insurance, regulatory restrictions, (areas and seasons, gear, allotments, safety) not to mention severity of storms and other climate change issues. 

[Feedinfo] There has been increasing coverage of the practicality and benefits of ingredients such as insects, PAPs (processed animal proteins) and algae solutions for fish feed. How do you see the use of those three ingredients evolving? Do they offer all the nutritional benefits required? 

[Fitzsimmons] Algae solutions, especially for fish oil replacement, are for all intent here now. The technology is proven, easily expandable, and can provide higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids than wild fish oil. In fact, as the results of selective breeding of algae improve, and further economies of scale are realized, the shift out of wild-caught, and even oil from rendering of fish livestock, is likely to be abrupt.

The insect meals are lagging behind the algae oils, but are coming along quickly. The investment funds directed to the insect farming operations are staggering. The aggregate tonnage in 2021 is probably still less than 300,000 MT per year and the producers are going in several different directions including human consumption, pet foods, other livestock, as well as aquaculture feeds.

Processed animal proteins have been critical replacements of fishmeal for many years already. Poultry and pork by-products, hydrolysed feather meal, and meat, bone & blood meals have been widely used in aquaculture. The procedure of feeding ingredients derived from warm blooded ingredients to cold blooded animals has been recognized as a significantly less risky process when we consider potential transmission of pathogens.

Virtually all the aquaculture nutrition experts agree that no single ingredient will replace or substitute for fish meal. But they do agree that using an array of ingredients to match the nutrient profile has been achieved multiple times and places for many years now and is progressing every day.

[Feedinfo] Are there any other novel/alternative ingredients which you believe could have an impact on the global aquaculture market?

[Fitzsimmons] Two large groupings of alternative ingredients are showing promise and gathering investors and customers.

First are the single cell proteins, including bacteria, yeast and some people include single cell algae. The bacteria producers are an especially interesting group as several are focused on use of methane or carbon dioxide as their feed sources. These bacteria could conceivably convert vast quantities of these greenhouse gases into feed ingredients for fish (and eventually other livestock). The opportunity to truly make a circular economy has attracted several of the biggest oil companies and banks to invest in these technologies. The ability to direct the amino acid and peptide profiles by adjusting the other compounds fed the bacteria is also attractive for generating the targeted nutrients.

The second grouping of alternative ingredients include fermented and other partially decomposed feedstocks. Both plant and animal by-products can be treated with yeast or other fungi decomposers in bioreactors or fermentation vats. Likewise, using enzymes or acids to decompose plant or animal by-products, in a targeted manner can make complex materials more digestible so the fish or shrimp can more easily assimilate the nutrients.

[Feedinfo] What are the biggest barriers to adoption of new/novel ingredients? Is scalability the biggest enemy to new ingredients becoming commercially viable?

[Fitzsimmons] Scalability for several of the more new and exotic ingredients is certainly a constraint. Several, like the algae oils, are already full-scale competitors with wild caught fish oil. Insect meals are overcoming the scale issue virtually while you read this.

After that is the inertia of farmers being conservative with what they feed their aquatic livestock. So, information transfer is a key part of the equation. Finally, price is a key factor, especially for microbial meals. But with rapid expansion of production, this will shrink rapidly.

[Feedinfo] Can we anticipate any legislative changes in regions like the EU when it comes to fishmeal usage? If the product is deemed “non-sustainable” by authorities, will it logically be phased out over time?

[Fitzsimmons] I would not be surprised at all to see the EU lead the way with cuts to fishing subsidies, cuts to total allowable catch of forage fish species, and eventually phase out of wild caught fishmeal and oil in favour of rendered fish meal and oil from aquatic livestock processing. In the US regulators have been approving insects and algae and microbial meals for human and animal consumption.

[Feedinfo] Finally, on what timescale do you expect these changes to take place?

[Fitzsimmons] Soybeans constituted the single major ingredient in most aquafeeds more than 20 years ago. Various farmed animal meals came on 10-15 years ago. Now we are seeing the fermented and enzyme treated products taking more share. The algae oils and insect meals will be mainstream from today and going forward taking their increasing share. The microbial meals are probably 4-10 years out before constituting significant fractions.