Aquaculture Magazine

April/ May 2017

Are we too hung up on replacing fishmeal and oil?

That fishmeal and fish oil (FMFO) are diminishing resources that shouldn’t be used as a major protein source in fish feeds has become accepted wisdom; the consensus today is that they are unsustainable, and their use diverts protein from human food.

By Suzi Dominy*

The International Fishmeal and Fish Oil Association (IFFO), the not-for-profit body that represents and promotes the worldwide fishmeal and fish oil industry, wouldn’t agree, and has had a busy start to the year, rebutting such claims in the general media as well as fishing trade press. Citing a study in the journal Fish and Fisheries, Salt, a blog from the National Public Radio (NPR) Science Desk, claimed the vast majority of fishmeal is made up of fish suitable for direct human consumption. It said a quarter of the world’s commercially caught fish, 20 million tons of wild seafood, is directed away from our dinner plates every year, and instead, is used for fishmeal production. “Researchers say a whopping 90 percent of that catch is considered “food grade” and could be eaten directly, potentially creating an important source of nutrition for those in developing countries at risk of food insecurity,” said the blog. 

IFFO’s Andrew Mallison was quick to counter the statement with a letter to the author, pointing out that the reduction in whole fish entering FMFO production has been offset by an increased recovery of processing by-product, to the extent that around 35 % of the total raw material used to produce FMFO is now from recycled waste products. He pointed out that many companies that process FMFO also produce products for direct human consumption. 

IFFO has published a position paper analyzing the forage fish dependency ratio (FFDR) to provide information on this complex debate. “FFDR is an often quoted term in the dialogue on fed aquaculture sustainability, but caution needs to be exercised in how the information is interpreted”, IFFO said, “and the figures produced for FFDR should not be examined in isolation nor should values for FFDR be used directly as measures of environmental sustainability.” 

IFFO claims fishmeal and fish oil produced from forage fish populations provide a substantial contribution to global food production and consequently are essential in meeting the nutritional requirements of billions of people around the world.  

“The use of the term FFDR confuses the issue by incorrectly assuming that the species used in marine ingredient production would have higher value to society in other areas such as direct consumption markets, or by environmental benefits through conservation.  As long as fishmeal and fish oil are produced from well-managed fisheries, or from byproduct from fish from well managed fisheries, then their use in aquafeeds is valid,” it states. 

Currently, the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) is seeking feedback on FFDR in its Salmon Standard, which is open and reflects a proposal by the ASC to reduce the FFDR requirements even further for both fishmeal and fish oil. “There is often a lot of focus on the term FFDR in analyses of fed aquaculture’s environmental impact, but in reality, the concept has little bearing on the harvest levels of forage fish populations although it was constructed to do exactly that,” said Dr Neil Auchterlonie, IFFO’s Technical Director.

In response to a series of articles in fisheries magazine Intrafish, discussing the availability and use of marine ingredients and their alternatives, Mallison said there was an unfortunate tendency for those selling the alternatives to confuse sustainability with continuity of supply. “Sustainability, or lack of, is cited as a justification for moving away from marine ingredients to their proposed new solution, whereas the real issue is providing continuity of supply for the future,” he wrote. 

He went on to defend the sustainability of the marine ingredients industry, saying it has an excellent record and can claim a far higher percentage of independently certified, responsibly produced sources than any of the alternatives. “At the last count, over 40 % of global production of marine ingredients is independently certified to be from responsible raw materials, safe, legal and traceable with more in the pipeline,” he said.

Mallison went on to ask that we now move on from the idea that fishmeal and fish oil have to be automatically replaced. “The industry is not best served by the trend for the accepted need for more feed ingredients to somehow morph into a campaign to substitute instead of supplement,” he said.

It may be though, that that ship has sailed. The industry has embraced the concept, as witnessed by the advent of the F3 Fish-Free Feed Challenge, which was launched in Nov. 2015 “to encourage innovation of alternative ingredients for aquaculture fishfeeds, improve the industry’s sustainability, and to reduce pressure on wild-caught fish to supply fishfeed components.” Contestants from Thailand, Indonesia, China, South Africa, Australia, Pakistan, Myanmar, the Netherlands, Belgium, and the U.S. are advancing to the first sales reporting stage of the multi-stage contest to develop fish-free feed. NemiNatura, a producer of farmed trout in Mexico, said in February they would begin trials of the different products and formulations presented by contestants during the F3 Challenge meeting, which took place in early January.

Big business investing in Omega-3 alternatives

Aquafeed uses approximately         US$ 3 billion in omega-3 ingredients, sourced mainly from fish oil. This makes fish-oil alternatives an attractive target for some of the biggest global agribusinesses. 

Royal DSM and Evonik announced in March their intention to establish a joint venture for omega-3 fatty acid products from natural marine algae. This alternative omega-3 source is the first to offer both EPA and DHA and will be aimed at initial applications in salmon aquaculture and pet food. The companies will together build a US$ 200 million commercial-scale production facility in the United States. The 50/50 joint venture, to be named Veramaris will be headquartered in the Netherlands. It is planning a production facility that is expected to come on stream in 2019 with an initial annual production capacity that will meet roughly 15 % of the total current annual demand for EPA and DHA by the farmed salmon industry. 

Under the joint development agreement, DSM and Evonik have successfully produced pilot-scale quantities of the algal oil at DSM’s production facility in Kingstree, South Carolina, USA. Customers will be able to receive sizeable quantities of the product for market development while the construction of the new manufacturing plant is underway.

Meanwhile, a new genetically engineered canola is in development by giant agribusiness company, Cargill, that could be another source of EPA/DHA omega-3 fatty acids. In feeding trials conducted with salmon in Chile, Cargill was able to completely replace fish oil in feed rations with oil from EPA/DHA canola. Testing and regulatory approval for both the canola and the EPA/DHA enhanced canola oil is underway. The EPA/DHA enhanced canola oil is expected to reach the market sometime after 2020.

Another global commodities giant, ADM, launched a whole algae DHA product for fish diets last year, and has “robust plans in 2017” for the product, according to a company spokesperson. Yet another commodities company, Bunge, working with TerraVia Holdings (formerly Solazyme) started using algae to convert sugar into an Omega-3 ingredient for fish diets last year. The company has capacity in Brazil to annually produce tens of thousands of tonnes of their product. BioMar has already launched a feed containing the product.

In recent alternative protein developments, so far this year we have reported that Enterra Feed Corporation has received approval from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to sell its Whole Dried Black Soldier Fly Larvae as a feed ingredient for salmonids, including farmed salmon, trout and arctic char. This is the first Canadian approval of an insect-based aquaculture feed ingredient. Enterra received a similar U.S. approval for use in salmonid feeds in 2016. 

Using a high-tech blueprint developed with Christof Industries, AgriProtein plans to roll out 100 insect protein factories by 2024 and a further 100 by 2027 (200 in total). The US$ 10 million partnership will help bring insect protein into the mainstream, the company says. “Waste-to-nutrient technology is starting to get traction and price per tonne is key in the fight to replace fishmeal. Christof’s expertise has enabled us to boost output and reduce costs, making us even more competitive and giving us a sound model for rapid global expansion,” AgriProtein CEO Jason Drew said. Turnkey fly farms will be operated by local licensees of AgriProtein technology in Asia, the Middle East, Europe and the Americas. At AgriProtein’s industrial plant in Cape Town, South Africa, up to 91,000 tonnes of organic waste a year can be up-cycled to produce up to 7,000 tonnes of insect meal and oil.

In an interview we published in the December 2016 issue of our quarterly Aquafeed magazine, Dr. Barry Costa-Pierce said demographers now predict that - contrary to previous projections - global population will not stabilize, but will rise from the current estimated at 7.3 billion persons to an estimated 9.7 billion people by 2050 and 12.3 billion people by 2100. What we know for sure is that they will all need to eat. Perhaps we should just embrace and encourage all our options to sustain the growth of aquaculture, which holds the promise of feeding our children and their children with a healthy source of protein. will present the 10th Aquafeed Horizons Conference June 14, 2017, in Cologne Germany. 

For registration and program details visit:

Suzi Dominy is the founding editor and publisher of She brings 25 years of experience in professional feed industry journalism and publishing. Before starting this company, she was co-publisher of the agri-food division of a major UK-based company, and editor of their major international feed magazine for 13 years.

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