Fish-free feed challenge prompting industry trials

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Several aqua feed producers have said they will offer feeding trials to the companies that win or are finalists in the F3 Fish-Free Feed Challenge.

Interest in the contest from the aqua feed industry showing there is growing demand for the use of alternative feed ingredients to replace marine protein sources, said Kevin Fitzsimmons, professor at the University of Arizona and F3 Challenge spokesperson. “The fact that many of the largest aquaculture farming companies producing salmon, tilapia, carp, catfish and shrimp are pledging to conduct commercial scale feeding trials with the winning F3 diets provides additional proof,” he added.

“Another encouraging development has been the support of the NGO community who recognize the multiple benefits of utilizing alternative ingredients and reducing the demand on forage fisheries,” he told FeedNavigator. “Their switch from opposition of aquaculture to active support and funding of more sustainable practices in aquaculture is rapidly affecting the industry and speeding innovation and improvements.”

The companies that have offered to run trials for winners or finalists producing a feed relating to their specific species in production include Marine Harvest, Alpha Feed, Guangdong Yuehai Feed Group and Dainichi, said officials with the challenge.

Contest recap

The F3 contest has focused on building support for the generation and use of aquaculture feeds that feature alternative protein sources.

The competition started in November 2015 to promote innovation and use of aqua feeds that do not include marine-based proteins or ingredients. Competitors stem from several different countries including Thailand, Indonesia, China, South Africa, Australia, Pakistan, Myanmar (Burma), the Netherlands and the US.

The teams are racing to see which of them will be first to produce and sell 100,000 metric tons of fish feed without marine-based proteins or oil by September 15 2017. If no team reaches the goal, the grand prize of $200,000 goes to the team that achieves tonnage in and around the 100K mark. 

Industry responce

Japan-based Dainichi has offered to test a fish free fish feed deemed economically sustainable. China's Alpha Feed and Guangdong Yuehai Feed Group said they will run digestibility and grow-out trials for either a winner or finalist with a feed for a relevant species.  

Both Chinese companies have said that it is important to support innovation in aqua feed to better protect the environment and wild fish population, according to the contest organizers. 

Investments in “promising ingredient suppliers” have been increasing, said Fitzsimmons. “Likewise, the last six months have seen a plethora of feed companies buying alternative ingredient companies and the larger ingredient companies buying feed mills,” he added.

The aquaculture industry is seeing a shift, as more promotion efforts, including research and demonstrations, are being done or funded by companies working with alternative feed ingredients like insect meal, algae and microbial products, he said.

“We are approaching a seismic shift in how we feed fish and shrimp,” he said. “Wild caught fishmeal and oil will be replaced by a balanced mix of more sustainably produced proteins and oils.”

The response has been beyond what competition creators expected considering how slowly the use of soybeans in aqua feed has expanded, he said. However, several factors have combined to speed up the turn to alternative protein ingredients.

Some of those factors include the increased price and limited amounts of fishmeal and fish oil available, and the growth in production of alternative ingredients, said Fitzsimmons. “Finally, the strong technical evidence of efficacy by the scientific community and support from the environmental NGO's has put additional wind in the sails of the new ingredient suppliers,” he said.

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