By Suzi Dominy*
Insects: the buzz word in aquafeed
Fish producers increasingly look to feed containing plant-based proteins to provide the essential component of nutrition that builds and repairs the cells that sustain life. Agriculture produces roughly 525 million tonnes of plant protein a year from corn, rice, wheat and soybeans. However, today’s protein production is not sustainable: only 25 % of proteins land as vegetable proteins on our plates, while 15 % are wasted and 60 % are used to produce animal protein. Furthermore, with the growing world population, protein production needs to double by 2050. Experts agree this cannot be achieved using traditional farming practices and resources, which is why alternative sources for protein such insects or algae are becoming increasingly important. Insects offer a sustainable alternative: grown on organic residues, they can recover up to 70 % of nutrients, thus recycling these underutilized streams back to the food value chain.
Insects such as fly larvae or mealworms are relatively easy to breed and rear. Some species such as the larvae of the Black Soldier Fly can be fed with organic waste products such as farming or food waste and are remarkably efficient in transforming feed into protein: insects require only two kilograms of feed to produce one kilogram of mass. Another benefit is their low space requirement: on a single square meter of insects, one kilogram of protein can be produced. The yield could be further increased with vertical farming concepts. Besides that, excrements from the insects can be used as a fertilizer in farming.
From July 1, New EU regulations permit the use of insect-based nutrients in aquafeed and there is significant movement by industry to fill the space.
In June, the insect supply industry reached a significant milestone with Netherlands-based Protix, a leading insect company, closing 45 million Euro in funding – delivered by Aqua-Spark, the first investment company focused on sustainable aquaculture, Rabobank, BOM and various private investors.
Protix is a highly technological and data driven insect producer, regarded for its automated breeding and rearing process. The company has turned insect production into a commercial success by serving the animal feed industry, while also developing food applications for consumers. Their products are used in over 12 countries to date. The driver behind Aqua-Spark’s interest is Protix promising uses for aquaculture.
Swiss engineering company, Bühler has joined forces with Protix to establish a joint venture, Bühler Insect Technology. It has announced plans to build the largest insect-processing plant on an industrial scale in Europe, which will serve as a modular and scalable blueprint for future projects.
The plant will be situated in the Netherlands and construction will start this year; the plant is expected to be operational in the first half of 2018. It will produce protein meal and lipids for animal and aquaculture feeds.
The black soldier fly larvae are fed carefully selected organic byproducts from local distilleries, food producers and vegetable collectors in the Netherlands, which further underlines the sustainability of the process.
Meanwhile, Agriprotein aims to build a network of 100 insect protein factories by 2024 and 200 by 2027, to supply the $100 billion aquafeed market. It has brought in heavyweight executives from the banking and financial sector to help spearhead the growth and moved its global HQ to London.
The company has allocated licenses in the US, Asia, Australasia and the Middle East. In February, it announced a partnership with Austrian engineers, Christof Industries, enabling it to roll out its fly factory blueprint on a turnkey basis anywhere in the world at the rate of 25 per year.
There is a nascent industry in Australia too. Western Australian company Future Green Solutions, for example, sells live and dried insects to the reptile and aquarium industries and is now working on a project with the University of Western Australia. Fruit and vegetable scraps from six Perth restaurants are fed to soldier fly pupae, which in turn are fed to rainbow trout. By-products from the process are oil and castings, organic matter that can be used as compost. Pilot scale trials are still five years away and industrial scale production 10. It is early days, but the movement is real. Earlier this year the Insect Protein Association of Australia was incorporated, which aims to help provide a legislative framework for the industry, communicate with government and help with funding.
‘CleanFeed’ project aims to determine nutrition requirements of cleaner fish
Nofima is leading a new project to determine the feed and nutrition requirements of cleaner fish, which are an important weapon in the struggle against sea lice on salmon farms.
In the four-year ‘CleanFeed’ project, Nofima, NIFES, the NMBU School of Veterinary Science and NTNU Ålesund will collaborate closely to discover new knowledge in an efficient manner. Lumpfish (Cyclopterus lumpus) and ballan wrasse (Labrus bergylta Ascanius, 1767) are the two cleaner fish the industry is cultivating, so research efforts will be concentrated on these two species. Lumpfish and ballan wrasse have quite different physiology, behavior and characteristics. The industry expectation is for both species to be robust, have low mortality and a solid health and nutritional status, in order to thrive in the salmon nets and do their job as lice eaters.
“The fish must receive the proper feed if we are to achieve this,” stated Lein.
The first trials in the project will examine the need for nutrients of both species. The first trial will address what the optimal balance of primary nutrients is for lumpfish. The next step is to investigate the need for micro-nutrients, i.e. minerals and vitamins. The need for nutrients varies according to factors such as size of the fish, temperature, growth speed and stress. It is therefore impossible to define one need that will apply to all situations.
Experience from cultivated lumpfish shows that they can often develop grey cataracts. The lens of the eye becomes clouded so that sight in the fish is diminished. Good sight is especially important to the cleaner fish so they are able to graze efficiently on the lice that are attached to the salmon. Scientists will also investigate whether there is a connection between feed and the development of cataracts.
“In this project, we will find the optimal composition of feed for the sizes of lumpfish and ballan wrasse concerned. Because the two species are so different to begin with, it is necessary to develop feed that is suitable for each individual species,” stated Øystein Sæle of NIFES.
“The objective is for cleaner fish, preferably a combination of lumpfish and ballan wrasse, to be in the cage with the salmon throughout an entire production cycle. One of the prerequisites for this is without doubt good nutrition for the cleaner fish. We are looking forward to obtaining results in this project over the next four years,” said Lein.
Suzi Dominy is the founding editor and publisher of aquafeed.com. 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.