Costs and benefits of innovative Eco-sustainable aquaculture practices

Authors: Cornelia Kreiß & Simone Brüning

The latest GAIN project developments on the impacts of eco-intensification innovations, found that novel feeds with commercially available emerging ingredients, could lead to farm profitability losses in most cases. This was especially true for diets combining different emerging ingredients, and in diets with smaller amounts of processed animal proteins (PAP) in addition to these new ingredients.

The most pronounced losses were found for seabream production. This was partly due to the decreased feed conversion rates when using novel feeds. The already high feed costs per kg of fish produced, when compared with trout and salmon, was also a factor in profitability losses. PAP feeds, however, were more promising from an economic point of view, especially for Atlantic salmon production.

What would you pay for high quality produced fish originating from European waters GAIN aims to work on eco-intensified production for seabream and salmon amongst others?

These results illustrate the demand for more affordable alternative ingredients, such as the upcoming GAIN-developed by-products. Consumer willingness-to-pay for more sustainable grown fish might also play a significant role in order for producers to stay profitable or to reach break-even.

Salmon farm in Norway.

Room for improvement was also identified for the valorisation of fish and shellfish by-products, especially for species with lower production volume and market-share of processed products, such as carp. The costs and benefits of the next generation of novel GAIN feeds, focused in adding value to by-products and side streams will be addressed in the upcoming work within the project.

Surrounded by innovation

By: Meredith Burke and Catilin Stockwell

Over the past few decades, technological advances have completely revolutionized our society. It has influenced the way we live our lives, from the way we watch TV, to the way we conduct our scientific research. However, the aquaculture industry has fallen by the wayside. Big data, collected and distributed to our hands in the form of apps, have begun to dominate our world, so why is this not the case in one of the fastest growing industries in the world?

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Farming fish with the Atlantic Canada in the background

Atlantic Canada has recently emerged as a global leader in ocean technology, as well as playing host to one of the largest aquaculture companies in the world, Cooke Aquaculture. We have the unique opportunity of being surrounded by innovation. We are able to work side by side with the developers, as well as the consumers, to field test new technologies, and optimize their performance prior to commercialization.

However, aquaculture is still a relatively young industry, often operating in remote places, so introducing the use of technology has been difficult. Through research projects, we have been able to merge two key industry partners: ocean technology via InnovaSea, and salmon aquaculture, through Cooke, in order to improve management practices.

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Meredith’s research focuses primarily on using real-time sensors to study water quality parameters, like oxygen and temperature, to understand how they vary through a farm, and what may influence these variations. At the same time, Caitlin uses acoustic telemetry to track fish movement in order to understand fish behaviour and improve welfare management. These two projects together allow us to provide a more holistic view of fish farming to create a more sustainable industry.

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We hope that our work will help inform other aquaculture industries throughout the world, to become more innovative, improve farming practices, and ultimately create happier and healthier fish, with the ability to feed a growing population.

Carp – King of Christmas or National Treasure?

By: Remigiusz Panicz

Poland is the biggest carp producer in Europe, and it is expected that in 2019 production will rise up to 21 000 tonnes. Based on available data carp sales increase every year, but without a doubt the peak is observed a week or two preceding the Christmas period.

Carp ZUT

More than half of Poles declare their willingness to purchase carp during this period. Remarkable is also the fact that during Christmas Poles consume as much as 90% of the annual fish consumption. Such situation is unique in the World. In Polish tradition, carp is a fish that reigns on Christmas tables, although other species also appear on it (e.g. herring, salmon, trout, lean fish).

Consumers value carp meat for its taste and aroma, but we should bear in mind that carp meat has also a high nutritional value. It’s a source of wholesome and easily digestible protein, health-promoting fat (essential fatty acids), vitamins and minerals. Sales are dominated by carps in live form or as carcasses, and increasingly as chunks or fillets.

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However, growing consumer awareness and the systematically increasing pace of life forces producers to search for new processing methods and to create more attractive products. Thanks to this, soon carp will be present in stores throughout the year. To overcome this challenge, Polish carp farmers will have to intensify and modernize production methods.

One solution could be combining traditional breeding in ground ponds with closed aquaculture systems. This system is currently being tested by the ZUT team together with other GAIN project partners. In addition to the breeding aspects, shortening the production cycle, supported by precision aquaculture (use of sensors, biomarkers, Big Data, IoT), the assessment of turning both by-products and side-streams into valuable secondary materials – while increasing profits and minimizing the environmental footprint – becomes crucial.

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There are several hundred carp-producing farms in Poland, which cover over 80 000 hectares of pond area. The fish farming sector employs over 5 000 people, with approx. 3 000 directly in carp farming. These farms may be interested in solutions developed in GAIN, especially those considering water availability reduction due to climate change.

Ponds are also a natural habitat for various birds, mammals and other animal species, which contribute to improving the environmental biodiversity and its attractiveness for tourism. Ponds are also important in water management – thanks to water retention they improve water balance in our country.

All of these aspects are a testament to carp being not only a King of Christmas but a National Treasure as well!

SZCZECIN LAGOON

Do we know how much fish we eat?

by: Andre Lopes

The GAIN project found that some of the most popular seafood’s in Europe appear to have a higher consumption than that reported in official statistics. The report, based on seafood demand data, focused on ten European countries and a large number of seafood products.

In addition to demand data, new supply statistics were considered to include other sources of seafood, including subsistence and illegal fishing. This showed that for cod, salmon, or tuna, consumption may be higher than previously estimated.

We found that salmon, the most consumed farmed aquatic product in the EU, appears to have a consumption of 2.21 kg per capita, significantly higher than the 1.30 kg per capita estimates based on supply data. This means that each European consumer appears to eat almost one extra kg each year of salmon unaccounted for in official statistics. Although an extra 900 grams of salmon eaten annually by each person only corresponds to an extra meal every two months, if this gap is scaled up to the European population the numbers are of concern.

Similar numbers were determined for tuna, cod, trout, and other common seafood products. Total consumption of seafood in Europe could be as much as 4.3 kg per capita for farmed products and 8.9 kg per capita for wild-caught products.

Taken on aggregate, the mass balance gap for aquatic products, i.e. from fisheries and aquaculture combined, means that as much as one million metric tons per year of seafood could end up on European plates without being recorded in official statistics.

The most likely reason for this substantial discrepancy between supply and demand data are flaws in the datasets—collectively, this introduces substantial uncertainties for policy outcomes. The GAIN project makes a number of suggestions for improvements in this critical area—without good data, there are no good decisions.

By the way, how much is the fish?*

By Cornelia Kreiss:

To produce a good seafood product according to ecological, welfare and human health aspects we also have to consider the economic side of the coin. The use of sustainable alternative feed, close monitoring of the production conditions or the valorisation of side-stream products is beneficial for a more sustainable production, but will also come at a cost. How high is this cost? Which production benefit or who (the consumer?) will compensate for these costs? What about the whole sector impact?

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These are very important questions for farmers and the seafood industry in general, which we seek to answer within GAIN. In order to do this on farm-scale we use a so-called “typical farm approach” implemented by the agri benchmark network headed by the Thünen Institute in Germany. This is a micro-economic tool which allows to portray the typical production of a farmed species according to real costs, techniques and other inputs: all of it in great detail. In the end we can estimate, which market returns per kg fish should be achieved in order to stay (as) profitable (as before)!

Kreiss_Troutfarmer

Sustainable production methods themselves already benefit the farmer, resulting in better quality fish that needs less feed to grow to the same size, or achieving higher water quality which might also allow for higher stocking densities. However, such benefits do not always outweigh the full costs that adaptations towards sustainable production might involve. As long as follow-up costs of environmental impacts are not part of the market price (which is admittedly not an easy task to determine!), price differences are at the expense of sustainable products and need a transparent justification.

Originating from Germany, where public awareness and willingness to pay for more sustainable seafood products is higher than in other countries, I am convinced that a good market transparency is the way forward and I am excited to be part of this aim in combination with more sustainable seafood production within GAIN.

*The fish bought by the electro trashers band “Scooter” in the 1990’s and being the name giver for their song “How much is the fish”, cost 3.80 Deutsche Mark and supposedly lived for at least 18 years, which seems to be a quite good deal!

Beer from oysters

By: Joshua Kyle

Walled City Brewery is an independent brewery in Londonderry which prides itself in providing patrons with a ’taste of the North West‘ by crafting local, authentic, premium quality, flavoursome beer and food. Inspired by Guinness’ suggested serving of oysters with stout, the challenge was laid down to the brewers to develop a beer using local Lough Foyle oysters and so Foyster Stout was born.

As with all great challenges, research was needed before jumping into the beer-making by looking to other breweries such as Maine’s ’Out-To-Sea‘ imperial stout in the USA or Dublin’s own Porterhouse’s beer, ’Oyster Stout‘.

A sustainably sourced supply of oysters was required for the beer and that’s why we selected the Lough Foyle Irish Flat oyster—the Loughs Agency, operated jointly by Ireland and Northern Ireland, has worked extensively on this species, as have members of the GAIN team. The oysters were sourced from licensed farmers—it is vital for us and for our customers that we use the best ingredients from sustainable suppliers.

The use of the oyster had a dual purpose in the brewing process. Firstly, the flesh was used in the mashing process which extracts natural sugars—the flesh gives a fantastic marine essence to these sugars. Secondly, the shells contain a high amount of calcium carbonate which is used as clarifying agent of the beer. This ensures every part of the oyster is used and nothing is wasted.

The Walled City Brewery launched the beer on 12th October, 2019 which was widely well received. It will be going on sale as a seasonal beer and Foyster Stout will be available in selected bars and restaurants in the city. We’re grateful to the Loughs Agency for their support in our development of this new beer which will help raise awareness for the Flat Oyster.

The Future of Aquaculture

By: Remigiusz Panicz

The Future of aquaculture’ was the overarching motif of the international conference held in Kudowa Zdrój, Poland between 25 and 27 September of 2019. Fish farmers, scientists and other stakeholders had a unique opportunity to participate in the science-grounded lectures and follow-up discussions both devoted to the aspects and problems of the aquaculture sector

Among these current and future concerns, are animal welfare, the diversification of aquaculture, certification models, climate change and diseases risk. GAIN’s partners Remigiusz Panicz, Jacek Sadowski and Piotr Eljasik, from ZUT introduced participants of the conference to the GAIN project, its objectives and provided its vision on common carp eco-intensification.

 

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This species, whose culture has a long tradition in Poland, currently struggles due to numerous factors: water scarcity, unfavorable policy, and market uptake. The freshwater farmed fish sector seeks for viable solutions to keep carp farming on a profitable level.

During the conference an interesting voice was raised regarding precision aquaculture: a direction which is unavoidable in order to cope with the aforementioned factors. Aspects of macroalgae culture in Polish coastline waters was also presented and discussed: this interesting idea is developing into a new project being launched in Poland this year.

Numerous aspects of circular economy in the Polish aquaculture sector were also raised and discussed openly: energy efficiency, regulations, and management of by-products and waste streams, and pertinent questions related to carp meat supply throughout the whole year.

The eco-intensification and precision aquaculture work developed in GAIN, coordinated with the efforts of stakeholders, might bring solutions for the future of carp farming in Poland.

The day of a fish

By Caitlin Stockwell:

Have you ever wondered what the day of a fish looks like? Or what leads to their decision making? Well I have always been curious, and I turned that curiosity into a career path.

I am a PhD student at Dalhousie University studying fish behavior in aquaculture using acoustics. Now what does that actually mean? There are many ways to study fish behavior from putting tags into a fish and tracking an individual’s movement, to using sound to track an entire populations movement. I use both in my research to help understand different aspects of where fish swim and why.

 

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To make a complicated technology simple, I use acoustics (sounds in the water) to send a sound signal up into the cage and, depending what type of sound is returned, will determine the amount of fish and their location in the cage. This information can be extremely useful to fish farmers as it can help them determine when to start and stop feeding, as well as how their fish respond to other environmental conditions (such as storms or harmful algae blooms).

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The aim of studying fish movement is to help farmers better understand their fish and assist them in mitigating any stress that could impact the fish’s well-being. By providing this information, we can help make happier, healthier fish to help feed our growing population.

GoodFish

By: André Lopes

As consumers what do we look for in our food? Something tasty, that we like, want and are able to find in our towns and cities. We look for healthy options, at least as far as we are able or willing to go. Fish – or shellfish – either farmed or wild mostly fits such criteria, especially when compared to other available animal protein sources.

We also want safe seafood, which is nowadays commonly available at most supermarkets, fish markets and even online. For most consumers on top of these considerations is the most important factor: cost. A fish that would check all of these boxes at a reasonable price, could be considered to be a GoodFish.

Although these aspects shape our choices, other considerations have entered our plates recently: now we also want our fish to be fed, grown, processed and transported sustainably – in its three-pronged meaning: ecological, social and economic.

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Inside each of these three aspects of sustainability resides a multitude of components which include genuine concerns such as animal welfare, gender equality, environmental protection and waste reduction objectives which fuel the implementation of circular economy principles.

Coupled with these recent requests (and partially originated by them) also stems a demand for higher trust in the food we purchase, hence the growth in innovative technologies who enable companies to increase the traceability and transparency of their supply chains, and empower us, consumers, (ideally) to also bask in the benefits of such tools. Shortly: we want to know more about what we eat so we can shape our consumption knowingly.

On the other side of this “coin” we have: 1. Regulators seeking to create conditions that promote sustainable practices; and 2. The seafood industry, who keeps providing an ever-increasing amount of fish and shellfish to our plates, while providing livelihoods to millions of people.

In order to figure out how to breed higher quantities of fish with less environmental impacts, while not trampling over animal welfare or human rights, could be (in fact is) a tough, reachable and critical task. That is why innovations stemming from science and businesses that can help us reach these goals will play a role. In working together and combining them we can reach that sweet spot: a GoodFish.

VALORIZATION OF AQUACULTURE BY-PRODUCTS: BEYOND OF FISH MEAL PRODUCTION

By: Xosé Antón Vázquez Álvarez

Industrially implemented in northern Europe (mainly Iceland and Scandinavia) a century ago to manage herring fishery wastes, the production of fish meal and fish oils were – and still are – traditional ways of valorizing by-products generated by the fishing industry. Extensible also to the co-products produced in the de-heading, gutting and filleting of the heads, viscera and frames of farmed fish (salmon, trout or sea bass), fish meal plays a fundamental role in the productive system of the aquaculture industry as final receptors (managers) of their wastes, and producers of the aforementioned compounds. The market value of fish meal is a function of its level of protein, and fish oils are more valued the higher the concentration of omega-3 fatty acids, especially docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Both products are essential ingredients in aquaculture feed formulations.

However, other alternatives and processes of valorization can be applied to these substrates: the production of fish protein hydrolysates (FPHs) and marine peptones generated from all wastes, the recovery of collagen and gelatin from the skins or hydroxyapatites of the fish bones. Within the framework of the GAIN project, the Marine Research Institute (IIM-CSIC, Vigo, Spain) is developing and optimizing these alternatives, initially on a lab scale, and scaling some of them in the pilot plant available in the IIM-CSIC. The raw materials studied are heads, trimmings, frames and viscera from rainbow trout, salmon, turbot and carp.

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In the first case, the production of FPHs consists in the application of proteases, mainly exogenous, to the mixing of the crushed wastes with water working under optimal experimental conditions (pH, T, enzyme concentration, etc.) for the adequate enzymatic hydrolysis of the substrates. The solid hydrolysates generated after the separation of the bones and oils present in the initial substrates and the drying process are a highly digestible protein-rich material, with a varied set of peptides of different sizes, in some cases with certain bioactive properties and better nutritional characteristics than the fish meal used as ingredient in aquaculture feed. It is in this direction where the application of the FPHs produced in the IIM-CSIC will be focused: the preparation by SPAROS of new formulations for aquaculture feed based, among other ingredients, on FPH’s. Additionally, hydrolysates from individuals of blue whiting discarded by European fishing fleets and which must be landed to the ports following the new EU fishing policy (Landing Obligation) will also be evaluated in salmonids feed.

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The second of the examples consists in the production of marine peptones from the FPHs after stages of autoclaving and centrifugation. These fluids rich in protein material should be a source of organic nitrogen of great potential in the formulation of nutritive media for the cultivation of bacteria with important technological applications (probiotics, dairy starters, producers of bacteriocins and lactic acid, etc.). On the other hand, collagen and gelatins that can be recovered from fish skins, combining different chemical, enzymatic and thermal purification/extraction steps, could be biomaterials of interest in pharmacological, nutraceutical and food sectors. Finally, thermally processed clean bones of muscular debris, should have a composition rich in calcium phosphates with possibilities of application as a food supplement, incorporated into fertilizers or as bioapatites for bone regeneration.

We hope that the processes that will be developed within GAIN will lead to other alternatives, economically more profitable, for the management of aquaculture by-products beyond the well-established production of fish meal.