"Urgent need" for greater volumes of new aquafeed protein sources, says IFFO-led study

Assessing the range of protein ingredients available for aquaculture feed, new expert analysis "provides some sobering assessments of where we are in the search for new protein sources", according to the IFFO.
Proteins for use in aquafeed come from a variety of sources, including fishmeal and other marine ingredients, insect meal, single-cell protein, grains and cereals, and other plant-based proteins.

Proteins for use in aquafeed come from a variety of sources, including fishmeal and other marine ingredients, insect meal, single-cell protein, grains and cereals, and other plant-based proteins.

Image: IFFO.

A new analysis looking at the strengths and weaknesses of protein ingredients for aquafeed shows that despite significant innovation in the sector, there is no one "silver bullet" when it comes to protein.

The study, published in the leading journal Reviews in Fisheries Science and Aquaculture, undertook a SWOT analysis on a broad range of protein sources used in aquafeeds, assessing each for its strengths and weaknesses in supporting the growing global demand for aquaculture production.

"Based on the current growth trajectory of the aquaculture feed sector there is an urgent need to increase production of feed-grade sources of protein," the authors argue.

Led by IFFO's Technical Director, Dr Brett Glencross, in collaboration with globally respected fish nutritionists from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU) and Stirling University’s Institute of Aquaculture, the analysis covered the whole range of protein sources available for use in aquafeed, from marine ingredients and processed animal proteins (including insect protein) to single-cell protein (including from bacteria, microalgae and fungi), grains and cereals, and other plant-based products.

There is no one single "perfect" protein ingredient, says IFFO

“The assessment demonstrates that every ingredient has strengths and weaknesses. In many cases, the weaknesses of one ingredient can be matched with the strengths of other ingredients to identify opportunities for complementarity," Glencross explained in an IFFO press release.

For example, the IFFO pointed out, soybean protein "has the scale and stability of supply and consistency of product quality but lacks palatability for many species". However fishmeal, which has "excellent palatability characteristics", is increasingly in short supply.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>The SWOT analysis used in the study.</p></div>

The SWOT analysis used in the study.

Image: IFFO.

"We need new resources", say experts - but scaling up is the challenge

With aquaculture expected to continue growing around the world, increasing the volume of feed-grade protein is "urgently needed", the authors conclude. However, "a crucial point is that [new protein sources] should not compete with the potential to directly feed humans."

"Existing resources need to be used more efficiently, and above all we need new resources. This leaves us with but a few options," the authors argue, proposing three key strategies to support ongoing "feed security" for the aquaculture industry.

Firstly, they argue it is essential to improve management of existing resources to increase their productivity - focusing on fishery management of key marine resources, as well as ensuring soil health for crops.

Secondly, the industry should strive for zero-waste in proteins for aquafeed - including utilising by-products from aquaculture and fish processing industries.

Finally, the authors suggest, "non-competing" resource production should be further developed, that is, creating new resources for feed that are not already part of the human food production system. This is where innovation in alternative protein sources, such as single-cell protein from bacteria, microalgae, and yeasts, has a role to play.

By balancing the "positives and negatives" of each ingredient, Glencross suggests, "it becomes possible to increase our adaptability in responding to the various opportunities for their use in feeds and improve our sustainability of the sector moving forward.”

And, while significant advances have been made in developing a variety of novel protein ingredients, the problem remains scale: "delivering meaningful volumes still needs work," the IFFO notes.

Read the full academic paper here:

Glencross, B., Ling, X., Gatlin, D., Kaushik, S., Øverland, M., Newton, R., & Valente, L. M. (2024). A SWOT Analysis of the Use of Marine, Grain, Terrestrial-Animal and Novel Protein Ingredients in Aquaculture Feeds. Reviews in Fisheries Science & Aquaculture, 1-39. https://doi.org/10.1080/23308249.2024.2315049

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