The Scottish Aquaculture Research Forum (SARF), in association with Marks and Spencer,
has commissioned new research to look at the potential to use seaweed (macroalgae) and
other microscopic algae as commercially viable sources of raw materials to feed fish.
With food supplies from wild fisheries reaching a plateau, almost 50% of all the seafood
consumed now comes from aquaculture of which 6% is marine fish farming. The effect of world
population growth combined with our increasing consumption of seafood means that the
demand for seafood can only be met by aquaculture production.
Like pigs and poultry, many types of farmed fish are fed on formulated diets to ensure they
remain healthy and grow at an optimal rate. However, a proportion of these diets rely on raw
materials from capture fisheries. Whilst this feed is usually confined to types of fish humans
would not choose to eat, it is generally accepted that supplies of proteins (fish meal) and
lipids (fish oils) are finite and that alternative sources and diet formulations will be needed.
There is increasing interest worldwide in growing micro and macro algae for a variety of
purposes – including biofuels, bioplastics, pharmaceuticals and as raw materials for
formulated diets. With its extensive coastline, well established marine research capacity and
progressive approach to renewable energy development, Scotland is at the forefront of this
activity, with a growing body of research expertise as well as commercial and political
Mark James, from SARF, said: “The use of seaweeds and other algae could help to reduce
reliance on traditional sources of raw materials for aquaculture diets. There is also some
evidence to suggest that they may have other important properties relevant to fish health
and welfare. The fact that seaweeds would largely be cultivated at sea means that there
would be no competition for valuable arable land or freshwater resources. This project will
hopefully provide an objective view on the viability of algae as a raw material source for
aquaculture feeds. As ever, the harsh realities of global economics, demand and consumer
acceptance will need to be considered, but there is the prospect that seaweeds and their
microscopic relatives may play an increasingly important part in our future.”
Richard Luney, Wild Fish and Aquaculture Manager from Marks and Spencer said “as part
of our Plan A environmental and ecological initiatives we have committed to sourcing all of
our aquaculture species and feeds from the most sustainable sources by 2015. By
supporting the SARF project we aim to understand the potential for algae to supplement our
aquaculture feeds with ingredients that have the potential to provide essential health
benefits to our customers whilst taking some of the pressure off wild fish sources”.
Richard Slaski of Epsilon Resource Management Ltd, the contractor chosen to undertake
the research project, said: ”On a global basis animal feeds consume a significant proportion
of available fish meal and fish oils. We know that fish oil equivalents, in particular, can be
produced by some types of algae. If we can use algae to provide these ingredients, not only
will it make feed formulation more flexible, it will cut out some of the intermediate steps in
the food chain and aquaculture will be doing its part to reduce pressure on wild fish stocks.”
Dr Piers Hart, Aquaculture Policy Officer for WWF Scotland, who was involved in developing
the specification for the review, commented: “WWF welcomes this new approach to help
address one of the key challenges for the future of the fish farming industry. The potential
for replacing wild fish with seaweeds in feeds for farmed fish is a fantastic opportunity to
improve the sustainability of salmon farming and fish farming in general.”
The vast majority of aquaculture production (c. 88%) is either marine plants and algae, filter
feeding shellfish, or omnivorous/freshwater finfish with a low requirement for marine protein
and lipid derived feeds. However, the remaining small (but important to Scotland and other
EU27 states) percentage are carnivorous finfish species, which require commercially
formulated feeds that contain high levels of protein and lipid. The traditional source of the
raw materials to manufacture these diets has been fishmeal and fish oils derived from the
feed fish capture sector – largely to ensure that the amino acid and fatty acid components
are nutritionally suitable for the finfish species being cultivated.
This issue was also discussed at a recent Marine Conservation Society workshop - “Feeding
the Fish of the Future – Alternative choices for aquafeeds”, which highlighted the increasing
need for the aquaculture feeds of the future to rely on alternative, non-marine ingredients,
such as algae. The event also highlighted the growing interest and concern for the future
formulation of aquaculture feeds by policy makers, NGO’s, feed companies, and retailers.
The Scottish Aquaculture Research Forum is an independent company whose main aim is
to support research into aquaculture and related areas. The Strategic Framework for
Scottish Aquaculture was published by the Scottish Executive in March 2003. This
document outlined a vision of an aquaculture industry guided by the principles of sustainable
development, balancing economic progress with social justice and environmental
responsibility. The formation of the Scottish Aquaculture Research Forum was one of 33
priorities for action contained within the framework and was created to promote, encourage
and support research and development in aquaculture. SARF was formed in April 2004 as
an independent company limited by guarantee with charitable status.
The aims of SARF are:
• To promote, encourage and support scientific research and development in
aquaculture and related areas. This includes research in the fields of environmental
impacts, technical and biological cultivation and health and welfare science.
• To enhance public understanding of aquaculture through the dissemination of
research results in the public domain. This will include research exhibitions and online
publications of investigations and results.
• SARF has a range of members including representatives from the aquaculture
industry, government organisations, wild fish groups and environmental NGO's. The
research undertaken will be across a broad range of areas and will be required to
meet the collective needs of its members.
Dr Mark James –
Tel: 01350 727484