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World Oceans Day

Good for fish, people and the oceans

Have you ever wondered where the salmon that you put on the grill came from? Highly likely, that it was farmed in Norway, as today every second fish that we eat comes from aquaculture – and for salmon the proportion is even higher.

The global demand for fish is rising - especially in developing and emerging countries. Fish is affordable and offers an ideal protein source for humans. Cold water fish such as salmon or mackerel are also key suppliers of the important omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, both vital for human health.

Fish consumption has grown worldwide in recent decades to around 20 kilograms per capita each year. This growth in fish consumption was enabled through farming fish in aquaculture, whilst at the same time wild catch numbers are stagnating at a level of around 90 million tons since the 1990s. In 2015, for the first time as much fish, crustaceans and shellfish were farmed in aquaculture as was caught from the seas, and this trend continues to rise steadily today. By 2030, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) predicts that aquaculture will account for about 60 percent of all the fish we eat.

Of course, the fish farmed in aquaculture must be fed too. In addition to vegetable components and minerals in the feed, fishmeal and fish oil play a key role as they are of marine origin. Fishmeal provides valuable protein for the fish, and fish oil also provides the essential omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA.

Currently some 16 million tons of anchovies and other small fish are caught annually in order to produce just five million tons of fishmeal and one million ton of fish oil used in aquaculture – a disproportionate amount that can hardly be sustained or increased. As, according to the FAO, 30 percent of the world's fish stocks are considered to be overfished. This is not only ecological, but also an economical issue: the growth of the aquaculture industry is limited as long as feedstuffs are based on marine components.

As awareness of such problems has grown over the past few years, the ratio of marine resources in fish feeds was massively reduced improving the sustainability of aquaculture decisively. In simple terms, the less marine resources that are used, means the more sustainable the entire operation is. In the beginnings of aquaculture back in the 1970s, almost 100 percent of the fish feed consisted of marine ingredients. This has changed dramatically since then, and today, modern fish diets only contain around 15 percent of fishmeal and 10 percent of fish oil.

How did this happen? Today, farmers understand the nutritional physiology of fish much better, and were able to adjust the feed amounts to the animals’ actual needs. The amino acid composition of the feed plays a major role: Plant-based protein that is used in modern fish feeds differ from the amino acid composition of fishmeal making it much harder to replace this ingredient. The problem can be solved by supplementing amino acids such as methionine, lysine and threonine in the required amounts. A feed composed like this can be utilized optimally so in modern salmon farming just 1.3 kilograms of feed is required for 1 kilogram of fish. This makes fish the most efficient source of animal protein for humans, as for pig diets, for example, this ratio is 3 to 1. Evonik, a leading manufacturer of amino acids for animal nutrition, has contributed significantly to this development.

The vision is to farm fish totally independent from needing marine resources. In other words: turning salmon into vegetarians. Today, there are already diets without any fishmeal at all. However, a full replacement of fish oil is not possible - not yet.

The omega-3 fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are what make fish oil so valuable for aquaculture. They are necessary for the salmon to grow, and it is these that make the salmon so healthy for humans to eat. In order to totally dispense with any marine resources in the process, an alternative source of EPA and DHA is needed.

In fact, Evonik and the Dutch company DSM have found the answer: Algal oil. This oil contains more than 50 percent EPA and DHA. The omega-3 fatty acids that originate from microalgae, reach the salmon and eventually humans via the food chain. So why not skip the natural food chain and extract the valuable omega-3 fatty acids from the algae directly? Just one kilogram of algae oil provides the same amount of omega-3 fatty acids as 60 kilograms of fish.

Drops of goodness: algae, as seen under the microscope, are the source of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA.
Drops of goodness: algae, as seen under the microscope, are the source of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA.

In order to produce algal oil on a commercial scale, Evonik and DSM are in the process of founding a 50:50 joint venture called VeramarisTM. VeramarisTM will cover about 15 percent of the current annual demand for EPA and DHA in the entire global salmon farming industry by 2019.

This is not only good for salmon and humans, but also helps to preserve our natural basis of life. Evonik is supporting the United Nations in implementing its “Global Goals for Sustainable Development”, particularly focusing on goal 14 - “Life below Water”. Aquaculture that uses feed containing the lowest possible amount of marine resources ensures that the growing world population continues to be supplied with valuable protein and protects life and its diversity in our oceans – and not just on World Oceans Day.

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