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Marine Science



Pond cultivated algae, slimy superhero for aquafeeds? A key to solving the omega-3 bottleneck for aquaculture feeds could lie at the bottom of a pond, in the desert, writes Lisa Jackson, in an article on the Global Aquaculture Alliance website.

Her article says: “In the brushlands of New Mexico and Texas, more than a million liters of Nannochloropsis are growing in mammoth ponds. It is an alga that thrives on salty water and is harvested year-round run by Qualitas Health – a Texas-based nutrition company aiming to revolutionize human dietary supplements by unleashing the power of algae.

“But this green goop could also be the slimy superhero the aquaculture industry needs, offering a feasible alternative feed ingredient for fish oil and fishmeal.

“Up until recently, fish oil was our only source of DHA and EPA – two important omega-3 oils,” said Dr. Sunil Kadri, director of Aquaculture Innovation, an international aquaculture consultancy firm that is working to introduce Qualitas and its offering to the aquaculture industry.

“Fish need omega-3 for their own health, and omega-3 in their flesh delivers health to us when we eat it too. So, aquaculture needs to grow its supply of omega-3 as the industry grows. Algae omega-3 offers this alternative.”

Fish farms provide about 50 percent of the world’s seafood, and that’s projected to increase in the near future. But aquaculture faces a dilemma: the need to triple production by 2030 to meet the growing global demand for protein. The health and growth of many farmed fish species rely on fishmeal and fish oil – which has cost and sustainability issues that could curb growth.

Fishmeal and fish oil supplies fluctuate, making future market prices for these key feed ingredient difficult to pin down. To ensure continued production and growth, the aquaculture industry has endeavored to find novel and reliable alternative feed ingredients. Insect meal and microbial meals have promise but currently lack scale. Algae is a strong contender, particularly for their EPA and DHA content, which fish need in their diets.

“Algae will allow aquaculture to continue to grow to meet demand and provide healthy omega-3s to a growing population, as well as meet the needs of fish and shrimps’ own health on farms,” said Kadri. “Without an alternative source of these oils, aquaculture cannot achieve this, and algae is the only alternative to fish oil available on the market today.”

Grown worldwide, this “green gold” is also packed with protein and has a knack for growing in arid environments, using readily available inputs like salt water and carbon dioxide. Right now, algae production is a relatively niche industry that focuses mostly on nutraceuticals and food dyes. It also has the potential to provide environmentally friendly biofuel to a replacement for fertilizer-intensive crops (like soy and corn) used for animal feeds. However, algae could also be a vegan, sustainable and scalable alternative to fish and krill oil.

“Looking forward to a time in the near future when there is not enough fish oil to go around, Qualitas’ algal oil provides the only GMO-free, extensively grown source of EPA and DHA on the market today,” said Kadri. “Overall, this is likely the most sustainable source of EPA/DHA available today, with a low carbon footprint and putting desert land to good use.”

Qualitas Health and Aquaculture Innovation are one of four participating teams in the F3 Challenge. It’s like “The Amazing Race,” but with just one feat to tackle: to create and sell a fish oil replacement that contains essential fatty acids, such as EPA, DHA and ARA, in an optimal ratio to match the average fatty acid profile found in forage fish. Whoever sells the most “fish-free” fish oil substitute for aquaculture by Aug. 31, 2019, is crowned the champ and collects a whopping $200,000 grand prize.

“Qualitas’ algal oil is a plant-based, sustainable source of EPA and DHA,” said Kadri.

“A sustainable source of omega-3s is currently missing in aquaculture feed.”

The whole point of this competition is to reduce dependence on wild-caught stocks and kick start the sale of commercial-scale “fish-free” aquaculture feed ingredients that produce seafood for consumers that are as equally nutritious as wild-caught fish. Qualitas Health and Aquaculture Innovation joined forces to take on the F3 Challenge, and while making headway, they aren’t the frontrunner so far. Veramaris, which aims to have its massive algae production facility operating in Nebraska this summer, is currently in the lead, according to a recent press release from F3. The winner will be announced this fall.