Healthy sustainable aquaculture is the future of fish farming

Producers can now implement healthy sustainable aquaculture in a way that was not previously possible in the fish farming sector.

New, innovative ingredients are becoming available at scale and leaders in the European fish farming industry have already spotted the potential to differentiate and create value with exciting new partnerships right throughout the value chain. Aquaculture is already consuming more than 75% of world fish oil supply from forage fisheries and byproducts from fisheries for direct human consumption.  Moreover, the reliable supply of omega-3 EPA and DHA has been a bottleneck for nutritionists seeking to ensure healthy sustainable aquaculture growth. This is because the global supply of EPA and DHA from usable sources of crude fish oil is constrained by wild-caught fishing returns and seasonal changes in the yield of oil from fish that have been caught; so renewable supplies of omega-3 EPA and DHA for aquafeed are absolutely needed.

The potential global demand for healthy long-chain omega-3 fatty acids from a growing population far exceeds supply, based on the most commonly recommended dose for cardiac health of 500mg of EPA and DHA per person per day; and scientists report that many people, even in regions of the world with good access to oily fish, have an omega-3 index of far below 8%, the level which is associated with reduced probability for acute coronary syndrome.

Among the innovators offering alternatives to fish oil is Veramaris, a joint venture launched in early 2018 by DSM and Evonik, two of the world’s leading companies in animal health and nutrition. Veramaris offers a new natural marine algal oil solution, rich in omega-3 EPA and DHA, which enables fish farmers to take full control over some of the most challenging aspects of healthy sustainable aquaculture and in doing so further enhance their most valued brand attributes. These factors include the health of the fish, the healthiness of the food produced for people to eat and the impact of salmon farming on wild fisheries.

New and innovative biotechnologies take time, money and courage to reach a scale where they can compete directly with the more established alternatives.  This usually means a price premium, which needs to be shared by value chain leaders who are brave enough to believe in a more sustainable future and are willing to take some risk in adopting new technologies.  The exciting thing with Veramaris is that the risk is comparatively small, but the benefits for people and for the planet are big; and the opportunity to enable future growth in sustainable food production is already being explored by leaders in the salmon farming industry.

Healthier fish

Farmed salmon need EPA and DHA in their feed to ensure optimal growth, health and survival of the fish. Veramaris algal oil contains the highest, stable concentration of both EPA and DHA available on the market today, which means that nutritionists can rely on this ingredient to support optimal fish health. With high focus on the welfare of farmed fish, nutritionists want to make sure that biological functions, health and development are well taken care of.

Healthier food

A healthy diet should include at least two portions of fish a week, including one of oily fish. This advice from health experts is based upon fish being a good source of many vitamins and minerals and overwhelming evidence in favour of omega-3 EPA and DHA as part of a healthy diet. For many consumers, taste, health and convenience are the main reasons why they choose to eat salmon. However, fish oil supply constraints have already led to lower levels of omega-3 in some farmed salmon compared to a decade ago and this has been well documented by scientists.

Furthermore, recently updated recommendations from the European Food Safety Authority call for a further reduction in the total weekly intake (TWI) threshold for dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs in food, much of which comes from fish and seafood. Veramaris algal oil offers a reliable way to sustain or restore levels and types of omega-3 long-chain fatty acids in the salmon fillet whilst further reducing levels of undesirable substances. This means that salmon farmers can now control the healthiness of their fish directly according to their customer’s needs.

Healthier oceans

People are increasingly concerned about a range of complex threats to the world’s oceans, so the United Nations has declared a Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. At the same time, the European Commission observes that we need 60% more food from the sea by 2050 to meet the needs of a growing population. Healthy sustainable aquaculture, therefore, has an important role to play in becoming a net producer of food containing healthy fatty acids. Considerable opportunities exist for leaders willing to take further steps towards achieving this and Veramaris algal oil gives them the opportunity to do so without increasing their impact on global fisheries that are already maximally fished.

Value creation opportunities

So far, even though feed producers have developed the necessary knowledge to produce 100% fish-free feeds, early movers like Norwegian salmon farmer Lingalaks AS are focusing on supplementing the fish oil in their salmon feed with marine algal oil to elevate the nutritional value of the salmon and to take further steps towards ensuring the healthiness and sustainability of their farmed salmon. Forward thinking retailers like Supermarché Match in France and Kaufland in Germany are early movers in recognising the opportunity to offer their customers an exciting new kind of farmed salmon.

Importantly, the taste and texture of the salmon fed with algal oil has also been tested and confirmed. Consumers are willing to pay for a different kind of salmon in the same way that they are willing to pay for Label Rouge accredited salmon from Scotland or Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) accredited salmon from anywhere in the world. In fact, although breakthrough innovations like marine algal oil are today more expensive than traditional raw materials like fish oil, the extra cost of salmon production is easily explained by the resulting benefits that come from healthier fish, healthier fillets and healthier oceans. When stakeholders collaborate, the value creation opportunity can be shared by all parties in the chain to ensure that the risk related to sustainable development is fairly distributed.

Moving to scale

July marked a very important milestone in the development of Veramaris, as the company celebrated the opening of its brand new, full scale, $200m (€180.21m) facility for producing marine algal oil.  While Veramaris is still a new entrant to the feed ingredients market, the completion of the new facility will enable the supply of 15% of the global demand for EPA and DHA from the salmon aquaculture industry.  This is a remarkable contribution towards closing the gap in supply and demand of sustainably sourced long-chain omega-3 essential fatty acids.

Aquaculture’s demand for omega-3 EPA and DHA is driven by fish health needs and brand promises for fish as a healthy food choice. The intensification of healthy sustainable aquaculture therefore depends upon the fast adoption of large-scale, renewable omega-3 EPA and DHA solutions that can ensure the sustainable growth of the aquaculture industry for generations to come.

Ian Carr

Global Business Development Director

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