Full replacement of fish oil with algae oil in salmon feed is possible

We speak with Dr. Kyla Zatti, head of BioMar’s study showing that complete substitution of fish oil with algae oil not only has no detrimental effects on salmon performance but also benefits human health and the environment.
Dr. Kyla Zatti is responsible for BioMar's paper on the complete replacement of fish oil with algae oil. Photo: BioMar.
Dr. Kyla Zatti is responsible for BioMar's paper on the complete replacement of fish oil with algae oil. Photo: BioMar.

We recently learned that Peru was canceling the first anchoveta fishing season of 2023. Then, BioMar was the first feed company to tell WeAreAquaculture that, despite the impact the news would have on the industry, the company had become "less vulnerable" to such an incident. "We have built a robust supply chain with multiple supply streams of key nutrients from sources other than marine raw materials," said Morten Holdorff Møjbæk, BioMar Group Global Sourcing Director. Not surprisingly, BioMar had just published a study demonstrating that full substitution of fish oil with algae oil in salmon feed is not only possible but a commercial reality.

We speak with Dr. Kyla Zatti, responsible for BioMar's paper on the complete replacement of fish oil with algae oil, which has been accepted and published in the Journal of Aquaculture. This publication makes available to the public the highest quality international scientific contributions related to aquaculture.

No detrimental effect on salmon performance

"We are very excited to announce that BioMar's paper about full replacement of fish oil with algae oil was just accepted into the Journal of Aquaculture," said the tweet where the feed company showed its satisfaction about this achievement of its R&D department. Making research public is beneficial for students to see the practical application behind their studies and work, explains R&D raw material lead and project manager Kyla Zatti. But, moreover, the future of aquaculture feed depends on studies like this, both scientifically and commercially.

As Kyla explains, the main study was carried out to establish whether it was possible to completely replace fish oil with algae oil in Atlantic salmon from 500 grams to 5 kilos – the commercial finishing weight at which producers sell the fish -, with no detrimental effect on salmon performance. In addition, the study also aimed to be able to reduce contaminants that can accumulate in fish tissue.

"We are trying to reduce the use of fish oil to be better for the environment but still be able to maintain the omega-3 fatty acids," she explains. "In addition, of course, to ensure that we have optimal growth and health of the fish, and to ensure high fillet quality [in terms of colour, pigmentation, and texture]," she continues. Or to put it another way, "So that, from a consumer perspective when we eat it, it's not affected in any way."

Moreover, BioMar's R&D raw material lead and project manager assures that they have done so not only without any detrimental effect on the salmon's performance, but also on their survival, and FCR (feed conversion ratio, or the amount of feed needed to produce one kilogram of fish). In addition, there were also no negative impacts on health. "Regarding organs, gills, skin, and the fillet, there were no significant differences found" she says. "What we were able to accomplish is that we can fully replace fish oil with AlgaPrime™ and vegetable oil without any consequences," Kyla Zatti tells us with satisfaction.

Humans can consume even more fish

"In addition to that," she continues, "we were able to significantly reduce the contaminants that were in the fillet at the end. The levels of PCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyls) and dioxins were significantly reduced when you compare the control-fed fish which has fish oil to the 100% replacement with AlgaPrime and vegetable oil."

This achievement, Zatti points out, is "a key component when it comes to human consumption of fish." As she explains, there was a call from EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) back in 2018, lowering the tolerable weekly intake for PCBs and dioxins from 14 picograms (14 x 10-12 grams) to two picograms per kilogram body weight. This could be perceived that humans should reduce their fish consumption as it may contain levels of contaminants. However, BioMar has shown that this can be combated from the feed. "This was a main focus of this study, to show that in actuality we can consume even more fish produced in aquaculture, because the levels of containments are extremely low."

AlgaPrime™ DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid), is the base ingredient of this study. It is an ingredient obtained from the microalgae (Schizochytrium sp.) developed by Corbion in collaboration with BioMar. "The idea was to be able to supplement the use of fish oil, which is a finite resource, with a more sustainable source to provide synergy," Kyla explains. As she has made clear several times throughout our talk the fact that fish oil is a finite resource means that it's limited and it is necessary to reduce its use and supplement it with alternatives such as algae oil.

"I think there's a bit of a misconception that many people believe that it's [algae oil] not commercially available, however it is," she claims. "In BioMar we've actually been able to produce more than a million metric tonnes of fish feed with algae oil. It is definitely available, it's being used, and I think that's what's so crucial about being able to put this research into the public domain. This way people can really see, on a global level, that we can use algae oil in commercial salmon feeds."

The study was carried out by Dr. Kyla Zatti and her team to establish whether it was possible to completely replace fish oil with algae oil in Atlantic salmon from 500 grams to 5 kilos with no detrimental effect on fish. Photo: BioMar.

Searching for a balance of raw materials

It is precisely this commercial application that is the ultimate goal of studies such as this one by BioMar published in the Journal of Aquaculture. However, despite what it may seem when reading its title "Full replacement of fish oil with algae oil in farmed Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar)," the feed company's objective is not to move towards a complete replacement of fish oil by algae oil, but instead to find flexible options that allow them to adapt to market conditions.

"When we do research, we tend to go with full replacements or high replacements to show the grandest effect," BioMar's scientist says. "This allows us the flexibility to work within the range of a particular raw material." In this case, algae oil.

"Markets, supplies, and costs change quite often so it's important for us as a feed company to have the flexibility so we can shift with all the different things going on in the world," Kyla Zatti tells WeAreAquaculture. But, she remarks, "It's not necessarily about the raw material itself, it's more about the nutrients that are within it, in this case, high levels of DHA. This allows us to formulate a feed to a specific nutrient."

Thus, the final goal is not to fully replace the use of fish oil or marine ingredients but to demonstrate that it is possible to increase the use of algae oil and bring balance to both of them. "The study shows that we can go to a full replacement and there's no detriment. This allows us to play with a blend of oils."

Aligned with the company's 2030 initiatives

Flexibility, balance… these are terms that Kyla Zatti repeats because she wants to make it clear that fish oil is still a great raw material with a low carbon footprint and a high nutritional value that is very beneficial for the health and well-being of fish, as well as for their overall performance. As said, this study does not want to end the use of fish oil in fish feed but to demonstrate that it is possible to move from finite resources, such as fish oil, to more sustainable sources, such as algae oil, and to create that balance not only on a smaller scale but also on a grander scale.

This study links directly to the company's 2030 initiatives for more circular and restorative raw materials. "In BioMar, we've set ambitious goals that are targets for our planet and for our people and that's to increase the use of circular and restorative raw materials," she explains. A circular raw material is something obtained from by-products and waste, such as fish trimmings, for example. Whereas a restorative raw material such as, in this case, algae oil, significantly changes the balance between the impact on the ecosystem and human production systems. "Our main goal is to have 50% of our raw materials being both circular and restorative by 2023 and, in addition to that, reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 1/3 by 2030."

"All of these combined go hand in hand with this study," she summarizes. "Algae oil is a great restorative ingredient, and other byproducts of marine ingredients are also great circular ingredients, and it's the combination of these and the balance of their use." It is, as she was telling us before, to demonstrate that it is possible, and to do it on a commercial scale. It's about understanding the whole value chain.

Along with Kyla Zatti, Mónica Juárez Ceballos, Victoria Valdenegro Vega, and Vegard Denstadli participated in the study. A team led and formed mostly by women, an important detail for the R&D raw material lead and project manager of BioMar. "As a woman in aquaculture, being able to highlight the research that is being done in a journal that is viewed at a global level is quite important," she tells us. Although, as she remarks in closing, in the end, all this "is about improving aquaculture, improving sustainability, and being able to provide a healthy, sustainable food source for humans to consume."

About BioMar

BioMar is a world leader in high-performance diets for more than 45 different fish and shrimp species in more than 80 countries. Founded in 1962 by a group of Danish fish farmers, BioMar's heritage is a long-term commitment to developing the aquaculture industry in a responsible and sustainable way.

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