A paper recently published in Reviews in Fisheries Science & Aquaculture argues that aquafeed manufacturers need to consider a number of social, environmental and economic indicators when formulating sustainable feed. They declare that the replacement of fish oil and fish meal as well as the FIFO measures (fish-in-fish-out) are only part of the sustainability picture of Aquafeed. Focusing solely on these areas could undermine the other environmental and social initiatives in the sector.
There are environmental compromises when aquafeed manufacturers replace fish-based protein with other materials. Replacing fishmeal and fish oil with soy can have serious effects on deforestation and land conversion. The production of novel feed components can generate high levels of CO₂. In some cases, using fish meal and fish oil from a sustainably managed fishery can be more “greener” than using a soy or corn-based aquafeed. The aquafeed industry needs a wider lens to account for the environmental impact of various feed components. A holistic view helps the sector to achieve its sustainability goals.
How can the Aquafeed sector become more sustainable?
The researchers highlighted four key areas where the aquafeed sector could focus its sustainability efforts. They included immediate steps to address environmental and food safety concerns, as well as longer-term strategies.
Feed formulation and selection of ingredients
Manufacturers must ban the use of unauthorized chemicals and feed additives. Antibiotics, hormones, pigments, and non-protein compounds can provide short-term benefits, but they undermine long-term sustainability goals. Formulators also need to exclude unsustainable marine food ingredients in aquafeeds. This includes meals, oils, hydrolyzates obtained from overfished wild-caught fisheries, as well as ingredients from other marine plant and animal species. Formulators should also remove unsustainable and adulterated terrestrial feed ingredients. Feed ingredients associated with deforestation and land conversion should be kept out of the Aquafeed, and the use of heavily subsidized feed ingredients should also be phased out. For biosecurity reasons, formulators must prohibit re-feeding (feeding aquafeed fish or processing waste from the same species).
From a broader perspective of feed formulation, the researchers recommend reducing the carbon footprint of aquafeeds. This means reducing the consumption and amount of imported feed ingredients while increasing the amount of locally available or recycled ingredients.
Feed production and feed quality
Improving supervision and transparency in this segment of the value chain would bring enormous sustainability benefits. Ensuring that production facilities are operated in accordance with national labor, environmental and quality standards would address many of the criticisms raised in the aquaculture sector. Transparent labels on Aquafeed would also be an important step forward.
In the long term, the researchers propose that feed manufacturers minimize the use of mill sweeps and the processing of waste in finished aquafeeds. Setting up in-house research and development teams to test novel feed additives, determine the apparent digestibility of nutrients, and collect operational data would also be a boon to sustainability. This type of research would provide important benchmarking data and ensure factories are producing high quality and efficient Aquafeed.
Use of feed on the farm and its effects
Researchers highlight data collection and farm management as key to improving sustainability. By optimizing feeding systems and feed use, farmers can reduce costs and address many of the environmental problems that arise from production. When farm operators can regularly monitor parameters such as feed consumption, biomass, water quality, survival and feed efficiency, they can identify problem areas and take immediate action. Fish farmers should track the nutritional content of the waste during the crop cycle to get a better sense of the environmental impact of their feed.
Focusing on feed, researchers find that farmers need to store Aquafeed in sheltered, cool, and well-ventilated conditions to ensure nutrient stability. They also recommend that farmers use feed on a first-in-first-out basis. Aquafeeds’ top dressing with other ingredients such as antibiotics and growth promoters should be banned.
Fish quality and food safety
The focus at this point in the value chain was on the influence of Aquafeed on the processing quality of fish. Aquaculture products should meet food safety and nutritional standards when they are placed on the market, especially if they are intended for human consumption. When Aquafeeds get in the way of this part of the value chain, it undermines other sustainability efforts.
As a long-term strategy, the researchers suggest that aquafeed manufacturers maximize the use of farmed fish and crustaceans. Reusing ingredients and scraps for human consumption in fast food or ready-made meals would add value for producers and reduce food waste. These steps would make the aquafeed industry more efficient and contribute to more sustainable development.
Read the full article in Reviews in Fisheries Science & Aquaculture.