aquaculture feed

Aquaculture’s $100bn Feed Challenge Presents Big Opportunity for Entrepreneurs

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The search is on for a sustainable alternative to the 30 million tons of wild caught fish that are currently used to feed farmed fish.

It’s a $100 billion challenge that’s attracting innovators and investors alike because the aquaculture industry actually needs to find 300 million tons a year of extra fish feed by the end of the century to meet demand.

These innovators and investors are driven by the prospect of helping offset the threat of a future global food and water crisis without creating other problems in the process.

Mike Velings, co-founder of the Dutch sustainable aquaculture fund, Aqua-Spark is calling this the Blue Revolution; think how agriculture was before the green revolution and that’s where aquaculture is today.

Velings is a passionate believer in the ability of aquaculture feed innovators to identify lasting solutions to meet the sector’s growing requirements.

The $100 billion figure, meanwhile, relates to the current estimated value of the global aquafeed market, a total which, according to aquaculture investor, David Tze, means that alternative feed products could be worth as much as $10 billion each. 

Speaking to both Velings and Tze, AgFunderNews asked if they thought fish feed innovation was currently heading in the right direction to address the challenge of the future.

“Yes and no,” replied Velings. “There is certainly a lot of aquaculture innovation taking place at present, embracing feed and milling technology, farming systems, disease control and prevention alternatives. As such, progress is being made across the world, across species and across geographies, and much of what is happening is very promising.

“At the same time, though, the 200-300 million tonnes of additional aquaculture feed we’ll need to find each year by the end of this century is as massive challenge, especially as it typically takes two to three decades to develop a new feed alternative from beginning to scaled production.”

Although the industry has been moving towards the use of plant-based alternatives to fish meal and fish oil for a while, he says that much more needs to be done. Finding one or two good new products, difficult as that is, will also only just dent the sector’s problems.

According to Velings, 20-30 alternative feed ingredient solutions will be required for farmed fish this century, each coming from radically new directions, such as single cell proteins, insects or algae. They will also need to be capable of being produced with minimal land and freshwater use, and without prompting any new competition with other food sources.

“There’s a lot of exciting stuff going on, but it’s not enough,” he added.

Tze, meanwhile, illustrated his commitment to the sector’s development with the comment that after working with, and investing in, companies in aquaculture exclusively for more than 12 years, he has decided to put all his eggs in one basket.

Having publicly unveiled the Tze Venture Search Fund for Aquaculture Technology in February this year, he’s now seeking a single aquaculture technology to acquire, operate, and grow.

“Marine species have evolved for hundreds of millions of years to eat the types of nutrients that are found in the ocean, while man has also cultivated crops on land for thousands of years,” he said.

“There is, however, limited overlap between these two domains and that overlap is already fully exploited by existing feed formulations, which consequently must rely heavily on feeding fish to fish, in the form of fish meal and fish oil.

“Science is now playing a role in coming up with novel, alternative ingredients to stretch a limited amount of sustainable marine ingredients from well-managed reduction fisheries while reducing reliance on unsustainable sources, as aquaculture production goes from 50 to 100 million tons a year.

“I am therefore actively looking for additional opportunities in aquaculture technology to consider, while I continue to evaluate the technology, business planning potential, and deal feasibility of seven (recently increased from four) protein options. Within those options, initial funding needs are as high as $10 million each.”

In addition to helping fund the final selected development, Tze will also commit his full management attention to the project concerned.

“My hope is to close the transaction in 2017, but I can be patient into 2018,” he said.

One beacon of hope for the industry, unconnected to either Tze or Velings, is the development of a single cell protein, recently unveiled by KnipBio, a Massachusetts-based biotechnology company. KnipBio is working in collaboration with the New England Aquarium, the University of Massachusetts at Boston, Roger Williams University, and the USDA Agriculture Research Service.

Targeted for use as an aquaculture feed replacement to wild-caught fish and agricultural crops, the project makes use of the bacteria Methylobacterium extorquens, a common bacterium cultured by the conversion of methanol through fermentation in tanks. Instead of getting beer as the end result, however, the fermentation produces a bacterium which the company has chosen to call KnipBio Meal, stating that the product has a composition of protein and amino acids which is ‘very similar’ to the protein found in wild fish.

Based on the findings of a study to test whether a diet consisting of between 30% and 100% of the pelleted bacterium would be a suitable feed for fish and shrimp, the company has now issued an upbeat development statement.

“Our results indicate that a diet made up of single cell protein can serve as a high-quality alternative in aquaculture feeds,” said Larry Feinberg, CEO of KnipBio. “In addition, our work since the study was completed indicates that genetic optimization of the single cell protein can further improve these results.”

Feinberg also made a major claim for the new protein in relation to its potential production base, compared to soy. 

“In addition to creating healthier fish, there are other inherent benefits to using KnipBioMeal as a replacement for agricultural protein in fish feed,” he said. “An estimated 100-acre KnipBio facility can match the protein production of a 10,000-acre soy operation, dramatically reducing the environmental footprint for production.”

Now that, if successfully delivered, would very significantly change the century’s feed sector landscape, not only for fish farming but for land-based farm animal production as well.

Image credit: Salmon Aqua Culture in Norway along the National Cycling route 1 – by Brataffe on Wikipedia Commons.

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