American Idol-Style Contest for Fish-Free Aquaculture Feed

Small oily fish like anchovy, herring and menhaden are the main target of the industrial fishmeal and oil fisheries. Once captured the fish are ground into feed for fertilizers and animal feed, from beef and chicken to salmon and tilapia.

Although many of the fish caught by the fishmeal industry are considered inedible by human standards, these small schooling fish are the cornerstone of ocean food webs, providing seabirds, marine mammals and larger pelagic fish like tuna the important protein they need to survive.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated that 20.8 million tons of fish were caught to produce fishmeal and fish oil in 2008, and forecasters estimate that the global aquaculture feed market with reach 96.27 million tons by 2022 due in large part to the growing aquaculture industry in China.

This outlook for food security and ocean health has led to a novel “American Idol-style” contest to develop alternative aquafeeds to support this growing demand.

Farm-raised Atlantic Salmon. Credit: Rick Barrows

The F3 Fish-Free Feed Challenge, launched in Nov. 2015 on the HeroX crowdfunding site, encourages innovation of alternative ingredients for aquaculture fishfeeds to help improve the industry’s sustainability and reduce pressure on wild-caught fish to supply fishfeed components. The contest is intended to help catalyze the development and sale of cost-competitive, viable aquafeeds free of fishmeal and fish oils.

This week the F3 Challenge announced that eight multi-national teams have qualified to participant in the global fish-free feed technology contest. Contestants from Thailand, Indonesia, China, South Africa, Australia, Pakistan, Myanmar (Burma), the Netherlands, Belgium, and the U.S. are advancing to the first sales reporting stage of the multi-stage contest to develop fish-free feed for the aquaculture industry.

“While the global aquaculture industry has made strides to stretch the limited amount of fishmeal and fish oil to rear more fish and shrimp, there is a severe need to find alternatives to these marine products to feed aquaculture-raised fish,” said University of Arizona Professor Kevin Fitzsimmons, the former president of the World Aquaculture Society and lead spokesperson for the F3 Challenge.

Fisheries models only focus on the amount of wild-caught fish removed year after year to predict yield for commercial fisheries. These models do not account for the impacts to the species that depend on forage fish for food such as marine mammals, seabirds, and larger fish. Fisheries managers may need to further limit catches of forage fish so that commercial fisheries for larger fish, such as cod, tuna and salmon, will continue to exist.

The first company to produce and sell 100,000 metric tons (MT) of aquafeeds that do not contain marine animal meal or oil will be awarded a more than $200,000 prize to support their fish-free aquafeed business. If none of the contestants have met the 100,000 MT target by Sept. 15, 2017, the prize will go to the company closest to the target. Teams are expected to report their first quarterly sales figures in Jan. 2017.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium, New England Aquarium, University of Arizona and World Bank are sponsoring the F3 Challenge.

— Annie Reisewitz is a communications and marketing consultant for environmental and green technology initiatives.


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Annie Reisewitz is a communications and marketing consultant for environmental and green technology initiatives.