As global demand for seafood rises, aquaculture has been presented as the solution to an ever-dwindling supply of wild seafood. Aquaculture has, so far, grown enough to keep up with demand, but the industry’s reliance on wild-caught feed to farm fish still takes a toll on wild fish stocks. Currently, 70 to 80 percent of aquaculture feed consists of wild-caught fishmeal and oil, particularly for commonly-consumed carnivorous fish like salmon. Approximately 10 percent of wild-caught fish goes into feeding farmed fish, equal to about 18 million tons.
While the animal feed industry has made promising progress on removing fishmeal and fish oil from aquaculture nutrition products, these innovations would go further if they were applied directly to food for human consumption. The novel ingredients and processing techniques currently being developed to supply food to animals should be supplied to humans through alternative seafood that is made directly from plants, using fermentation technology, or by culturing cells.
Fishmeal and oil for aquaculture are tied to overfishing.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 34 percent of global fish stocks are being depleted faster than they can replenish. And approximately 60 percent of fish stocks are already fished to the maximum sustainable level.
When it comes to fish oil and meal, South America leads in production. However, there is sparse data on the health of these fisheries, leading experts to believe that they are likely fished at maximum capacity, if not overexploited. In fact, 75 percent of one anchoveta fishery in Peru was found to be juvenile fish, and the Aracanian herring fishery off of Chile is believed to be overfished. The supply strain on these fisheries impacts the surrounding ecosystem’s food chain, ultimately threatening an ecological collapse.
While the fishmeal and fish oil industries seek to increase their sustainability by increasing the use of bycatch and production byproducts (around 25 to 35 percent), fish stocks have continued to decrease since 1995. This has caused prices for fishmeal and oil to rise. Feed companies have shifted their attention to alternative sources of feed, but they could benefit even more by focusing on alternative seafood.
Alternative aquaculture feed is a more flexible and sustainable option.
Alternative aquaculture feed replaces fishmeal and oil meant for carnivorous fish using alternative proteins ranging from plant-based meal and plant oil to terrestrial byproducts and microbial ingredients. Because alternative feeds decouple aquaculture from wild capture fishing, new feed innovation has been hailed as a sustainable alternative to fishmeal and fish oil. According to NOAA, “alternative ingredients already in use include soybeans, barley, rice, peas, canola, lupine, wheat gluten, corn gluten, other various plant proteins, yeast, insects and algae. Farmed seaweed has significant growth potential as a source of food and fiber for both aquaculture feed and human consumption.” Expanding the production of these ingredients for inclusion in alternative seafood will enable plant-based, cultivated, and fermentation-derived producers to sustainably supply the nutrients that we associate with conventional seafood.
Alternative seafood is more efficient than conventional aquaculture.
Despite the fact that alternative feed reduces aquaculture’s reliance on wild fisheries, producing feed for aquatic animals still puts stress on the environment. Cycling calories through animals requires more energy, land, and water than creating alternative seafood directly. Only about 10 percent of calories and 19 percent of protein content is actually converted to calories and protein for human consumption in common aquaculture species.
Alternative seafood’s enhanced efficiency allows producers to provide calories, protein, and essential micronutrients to a greater global population—and consumer base. For example, microalgae supplies the fiber, protein, and omega-3 content consumers value in fish. As of 2019, annual microalgae production was 40,000 tons a year, which only makes up 0.7 percent of aquaculture’s feed demand. If the same amount were fed directly to people rather than cycled through fish, the nutritional benefit could reach far greater numbers.
Alternative feed innovations could have an even greater impact if applied to alternative seafood.
Applying the technology used to produce alternative feed to producing whole plant-based, cultivated, and fermentation-derived seafood products would benefit the bottom line of feed companies and seafood manufacturers alike. Incorporating ingredients like Corbion's AlgaPrime DHA into plant-based seafood products not only gives the end product the omega-3 profile consumers expect from seafood, but it also provides the ingredient producer with a new and growing market for their product. Further, the underlying technology driving new feed products in the space could be used to develop cost-effective cell culture media, enabling producers to scale up cultivated seafood.
Innovators can and should partner with the alternative seafood industry to incorporate alternative aquaculture feed technologies into plant-based, fermentation-derived, and cultivated seafood products. Feed companies can establish more lucrative partnerships with companies making higher-value alternative seafood products, thus increasing the return on the investment already being made in innovative feed ingredients. In turn, these partnerships will give conventional and alternative seafood companies access to cutting edge ingredients at a large scale, allowing them to get nutritious and delicious alternative seafood products to market sooner and at a price suitable to consumers.
Alternative seafood is on the rise, creating growth potential for all parties involved. Right now, plant-based seafood makes up only about one percent of the total plant-based meat market in retail in the U.S., compared to the nearly 20 percent of the conventional meat market made up of seafood. Clearly, there are massive white space opportunities. Only a few products on the market currently appeal to the flexitarian consumer, and they represent only a small selection of commonly eaten species and product types. As demand for seafood is set to grow by 30 percent by 2030 relative to 2010 levels, it is no wonder that investment in alternative seafood hit an all-time high in 2020 of over $45 million in disclosed funding. Alternative seafood is the future of the seafood industry, and now is the time to invest in the technology and partnerships required to move new aquaculture feed technology into alternative seafood innovation.
Animal feed companies are already getting involved.
Recognizing the transformative efficiency, sustainability, and growth potential that alternative feed and seafood present for the seafood industry, several companies have begun to express interest in this space. For example, NovoNutrients uses CO2 waste to produce protein flours for both conventional and alternative proteins, and Calysta has indicated that their fermentation-derived feed FeedKind could have applications for feeding people directly. Several other companies, including BioFeyn (which encapsulates high-value components for incorporation in fish feed), Corbion (a producer of omega-3 feed from marine microalgae), and KnipBio (which uses methylotrophic bacteria to produce single-cell proteins for animal feed), could play a significant role in alternative seafood as well.
Nutreco, which produces a variety of animal and aquaculture feeds, has already established a partnership with cultivated seafood company BlueNalu. Nutreco will leverage their nutritional insight and raw ingredient access to support the startup. Innovative partnerships like this are encouraging signs as we seek to create sustainable and efficient solutions to feed the growing global population.
GFI’s Sustainable Seafood Initiative would love to work together with companies creating alternative feed to also explore applications to plant-based, cultivated, and fermentation-derived seafood. For GFI’s help, please reach out to email@example.com.