Fish Oil Challenge seeks innovators to streamline aquaculture feed supply chain.
A new contest to innovate a fish oil alternative that doesn’t rely on wild-caught fish officially launched this week. The F3 Fish Oil Challenge will award a $100,000 prize to the company or team that makes and sells the most fish-free “fish oil” to aquaculture operations or feed manufacturers. The prize amount is expected to increase through additional crowdsource fundraising.
The F3 (Future of Fish Feed) team, a collaboration of scientists, environmentalists and industry leaders, is currently recruiting innovators to join the global race to help remove a bottleneck to growth in the aquaculture industry. Aquaculture is poised to explode as the supplier of one of the world's most efficient sources of animal proteins to feed our planet’s growing population. However, the industry is being held back by the availability of one key ingredient: fish oil, which provides important omega fatty acids for animal and human nutrition.
The University of Arizona, New England Aquarium, University of Massachusetts Boston, Synbiobeta, Anthropocene Institute and The World Bank are sponsoring the contest that aims to both support and streamline the aquaculture feed supply chain.
“We are seeking innovators who do not accept business-as-usual and will apply their ingenuity to make aquaculture industry more feasible, and more environmentally responsible now and in the future,” said University of Arizona Professor Kevin Fitzsimmons, a judge of the Fish Oil Challenge and former president of the World Aquaculture Society. “Changing the way we grow farmed fish is vital to feed ourselves without further depleting the wild-fish populations on which aquaculture depends.”
Fish farms, or aquaculture, now provide about half of the world’s seafood. And, fish farm owners are looking for new and innovative ways to feed all those billions of fish in a way that doesn’t rely on fish resources from the ocean. Oily fish, like sardines, anchovies and menhaden, called “forage fish,” are currently harvested from the wild and fed to farmed-raised fish to provide them with these essential fatty oils.
The problem is that these fish are also crucial food for other commercial fisheries like cod, salmon, tuna, as well as marine mammals like whales, dolphins and seals as well as seabirds. If these wild fish populations at the center of the food chain disappear, so will the life that depends on it.
For the current rate of expansion of aquaculture to continue, most scientists and aquaculture industry analysts agree that alternative ingredients need to be used. If alternatives are not found the aquaculture industry will contract, according to the World Bank. Some of the innovations may be found in new collaborations between the biotechnology and seafood sectors to create a fish-free fish oil that provides essential nutrients for aquaculture and for people using fewer land and water resources.
“From its inception, biotechnology has been about finding solutions to societal challenges,” said Christopher Oakes, director of corporate development at SynBioBeta, the activity hub for the synthetic biology industry. "Our hope is that we can apply engineering principles to biology and increase collaboration between these two industries to improve the sustainability of farm-raised seafood."
Essential fatty acids (EFAs), known as omega-3s and 6 and found in fish oils, are critical building blocks of a fish diet. An optimal balance of these key nutrients in aquaculture-raised fish feed is needed to ensure that the fish are healthy and highly nutritious for consumers. Currently only one of these fatty acids, called DHA, is available from non-fish sources such as algae. Innovating a complete fish oil replacement that contains the other two essential fatty acids, known as EPA and ARA, in an optimal ratio that mimics the fatty acid profile found in forage fish is the goal of the challenge. EFAs are important for the health of the human nervous system, including the health of the heart and brain.
To help the contestants, the F3 team’s fish nutrition experts have used known fatty acid profiles of wild forage fish to develop target values that will need to be met to qualify as a viable fish oil replacement.
Raising healthy fish on fish-free feed has many consumer benefits as well. The sustainable harvest of forage fish is of increasing importance for preserving life in the oceans and to make aquaculture more environmentally responsible for consumers.
Since the current supply of fishmeal and fish oil from the ocean is limited and fluctuates based upon environmental conditions, sourcing of sustainable ingredients for aquaculture feeds is a main factor considered by seafood eco-labels, which provide consumers with important information about the sustainability of the seafood they buy.
Recent scientific studies have also found harmful levels of mercury and other pollutants in forage fish that accumulate in the ocean, which could be a cause for concern among consumers.
“Our goal is to use technological innovation to overcome challenges in the aquaculture supply chain and change the way we feed farm-raised fish,” said Fitzsimmons. “The industry has made tremendous strides to vastly increase yields of aquaculture products with limited supplies of fish meal and fish oil. However, if we are to become even more sustainable and want to ensure a robust industry in the future, more innovation is needed to find cost-effective alternative ingredients.”
China and the Asia-Pacific region are the largest markets in the global aquaculture industry, which is expected to be worth over $200 billion by 2020. The global fish oil market is projected to reach over $4 billion by 2021, and the rapidly expanding growing global aquaculture industry is the greatest source of demand for fish oil. Demand for fish oil as an ingredient in dietary supplements and pet food is also on the rise.
The first challenge by the F3 team, the Fish-Free Feed Challenge, was a game-changer in the fish feed industry by helping to promote the adoption of fish-free feed to improve the overall sustainability of the aquaculture industry. The challenge drew contestants from all over the world who have collectively sold over 100,000 metric tons of fish-free feed, saving over 100 million forage fish from being used as fish feed. This new challenge will help provide a key strategic ingredient that will enable aquaculture to expand more quickly, independent of wild-caught fish stocks, enhancing global food security.
The goal of the F3 Fish Oil Challenge is to accelerate the availability of cost-competitive, viable alternatives to fish oil that provide the essential nutritional components for fish that at the same time help reduce demand for wild-caught for fish feed and enhance food security.
To learn more and register to compete, click here.
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