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Fishmeal and fish oil shortage I: What are the alternatives?

The cancellation of the first Peruvian anchovy season and the current high prices of fishmeal and fish oil brought new challenges to the aquafeed industry. In this context, what are the alternatives?

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November 8, 2023

The cancellation of the first Peruvian anchovy season in June created new challenges for the global market of fishmeal and fish oil which is currently facing high prices. The authorization of the second anchovy season in October was welcomed by the industry and will provide some relief to the market. However, this situation brings new opportunities for other feed ingredients and additives to support aquafeed production in these challenging times. In this series of articles, wants to go a bit deeper into the alternatives the aquafeed industry has and how they can support the current context.

Plant-based proteins

Today, soybean meal is the most used protein source in aquafeeds globally. “Inclusion in aquaculture diets is ideal due to its protein content, balanced amino acid profile, and high levels of palatability and digestibility for most cultured fish and shrimp species,” said Tom D’Alfonso, director of animal & aquaculture at USSEC. “In addition to the nutrient bundle, aquafeeds with soybean meal perform very well in extruded feed manufacturing.”

“There are really no constraints when it comes to the supply of soybean meal and value-added soy products, such as fermented soy. In fact, in recent feed formulation workshops, optimized aquaculture diets with soybean meal saved over $50 per ton of feed compared to diets without soy,” D’Alfonso said.

Plant-based protein utilization has increased over the past two decades reaching 40% of feed as in the case of salmon. However, some plant-based protein resources contain anti-nutritional factors that affect fish health and performance. Different strategies have been developed to cope with these issues, such as applying fermentation technology to different plant sources or the need to use certain additives to compensate for the health impacts.

“Fermented corn can meet protein level requirements as well as being more attractive/palatable to fish compared to other plant-based proteins. It has also demonstrated a health benefit both in gut condition and improved resistance to disease. For certain carnivorous fish species, lowering fishmeal inclusion and increasing plant protein inclusion can lead to intestinal enteritis, as well as weaken their immune system with the reduction of omega-3 fats from decreased fish oil/fishmeal inclusion. Reducing the risk of enteritis and supporting the fish’s immune system helps manage the fish’s health,” said Louis Rens, SVP global ingredients sales, Green Plains.

“With support and supplementation of EPA/DHA algal oils, fermented proteins have proven viable alternatives for use in fish-free diets of both finfish and shrimp, supported by a lack of anti-nutritional factors and the presence of inactive yeast cells which create a highly digestible source of protein,” Derek Balk, director of High Protein Ingredients & Business Development at POET.

“The fermentation process brings new nutritional functionality to aquafeeds such as pre- and post-biotic benefits for the health of the animal, and it improves the bioavailability of key nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, reducing harmful discharge into aquatic environments,” Mark Luecke, CEO of Houdek said. “We’re also working on adding essential, non-marine sourced omega-3s to our fermented plant protein, providing nutritionists with an even greater ingredient resource, especially as aquafeed manufacturers place increasing value on sustainability and life cycle analysis.”

As technology evolves, it allows the entry of new protein sources such as protein concentrates isolated from canola (oilseed rape). “Canola is an existing, large reservoir of high-quality protein with a well-balanced essential amino acid profile for animal nutrition, a cost-effective source of strategic nutrients (e.g. phospholipids) which can be used at high inclusion rates in aquaculture feeds,” said David Dzisiak, chief operating officer at Botaneco. “Canola production in Europe, Canada, and Australia provides a large-scale, existing source containing over 10 MM mt of high-quality protein. For Europe, it provides additional advantages of being able to use a large local crop, that supports domestic farmers, a more circular economy and reducing carbon intensity by decreasing the need for soy importation from South America.”

Other marine-based ingredients

“Among diet formulations, the range of ingredients now used in aquafeeds has increased significantly over the last decades. This growth in diversity was inevitable with the growth in the aquaculture sector: there was simply not enough marine ingredient volume to continue to supply it as a bulk ingredient. Consequently, marine ingredients have become a strategic resource due to their unmatched nutritional package and other cheaper resources serve as bulk nutrient sources,” said IFFO’s director general, Petter Martin Johannessen.

“The supply of marine ingredients cannot meet the demand and additional ingredients are needed as a complement. The reduction in inclusion rates has allowed feed production volumes to continue to increase unhindered, also resulting in 0.19kg of ingoing fish needed to grow 1kg of farmed fish,” Johannenssen said.

Used as strategic resources, marine ingredients help formulators to balance diets. “Marine resources such as krill meal are made up of a unique blend of proteins, lipids, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, making it an ideal feed additive to fill the nutritional gaps of plant-based or alternative animal diets. To that end, krill meal can replace marine ingredients from less sustainable fisheries —the results include better palatability, faster growth, better health, more robust fish, better quality of fish, and less feed loss,” said Ragnhild Dragøy, VP product management & sustainability, Aker BioMarine.

“We believe that substituting fishmeal is not just a question of substituting nutrients, but also the taste and smell of fishmeal that triggers appetite and feed intake. Krill protein hydrolysate is a potent taste enhancer that stimulates feeding especially in sub-optimal conditions and it can help replace fishmeal with other less tasty proteins with a more neutral taste,” Julio Lopez Alvarado, vice president sales aquaculture at Rimfrost.

“Krill protein hydrolysate is included in the feed at levels of only 2-3%, and it can replace fishmeal levels of more than 12-15%. This means that the formula cost using 3% krill hydrolysate and replacing 12-15% fishmeal will be cheaper than a fishmeal formula,” Lopez Alvarado explained.

Protein concentrates extracted from Calanus finmarchicus can also be strategically used to mitigate the adverse effects of fish-free or low-fishmeal diets. “The production of protein and oil from Calanus finmarchicus is progressing well and is cost-effective. However, these products' pricing reflects that the output is still in its starting position. The cost-effectiveness will improve with higher production volumes, benefiting feed producers,” said Hogne Abrahamsen, chief sales officer animal health & nutrition at Zooca.

Other proteins

Yeast is recognized not only as an excellent protein source but also for its functional properties, making it a sustainable and highly promising ingredient with substantial growth potential. “With a protein content approaching 40% and a digestibility rate exceeding 80%, yeast can effectively replace fishmeal while addressing amino acid deficiencies. Yeast also has functional properties, such as the presence of beta-glucans that support the immune system and mannan oligosaccharides (MOS) that directly inhibit the aggregation of pathogenic bacteria,” said Fernando Souza, technical coordinator for monogastrics at ICC.

“The use of hydrolyzed yeast offers several advantages. The first of these is sustainability. Secondly, the quality of hydrolyzed yeast has an amino acid profile that meets the nutritional requirements of many fish species, promoting healthy growth and feed efficiency. Furthermore, hydrolyzed yeast is highly digestible, meaning that fish can efficiently absorb and utilize the nutrients present in the feed, resulting in better performance. In some cases, it can also be a cost-effective alternative compared to fishmeal, contributing to the reduction of feed production costs,” said Anderson Aparecido Dias Santos, Biorigin R&D.

“Yeast is a highly competitive ingredient. Currently, Brazil is the largest producer of yeast derived from ethanol fermentation. However, only 10% of the yeast produced in this process is utilized for animal production. This means there is significant growth potential, with a projection to increase from 100,000 tons per year to 1,000,000 tons per year without requiring additional production resources, as this extra already exists but is currently not being utilized by the animal feed industry. Among the potential protein sources for replacing fishmeal, yeast certainly stands out as the one with the most abundant supply,” Souza stated.

Another protein option is spray-dried red cells (SDRC), a highly digestible, high protein content ingredient to replace fishmeal in species such as salmon, trout, and shrimp. “Additionally, spray-dried plasma (SDP) stands out as a functional ingredient known to confer health advantages to aquatic species, particularly during specific stages of their life cycle, such as the juvenile phase or during periods of specific challenges and stress,” said Javier Polo, vice president of APC. “Although ingredient pricing may vary globally, SDRC offers a viable alternative to ensure nutritional requirements are met at a reasonable cost.”

“Another protein alternative is Processed Animal Proteins (PAPs), used mostly out of Europe with success, but their high iron content often causes oxidative damage with repercussions on performance and meat quality. Providing strong and bioavailable antioxidants could prevent both feed and animals from that oxidation phenomenon,” said Amine Chaabane, species & product manager aquaculture at Phodé.


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Insects are a natural part of the diet of some carnivorous or omnivorous aqua species, hence they are a suitable alternative to fishmeal. “Insect meal performs well in fish-free aquafeeds. Trials with a fish-free shrimp diet have shown to be – as a minimum – on par with a standard commercial shrimp diet containing fishmeal and fish oil amongst other marine ingredients,” Vincent Verhoestraete, sales director at Entobel.

“Insect meal can perform well in fish-free aquafeeds, but its performance depends on various factors, including the species of aquaculture, life stages, and the specific formulation of the feed,” said Alex Diana, product manager aquaculture at Innovafeed.

One of the main concerns when utilizing insect meal is its high price but insect producers state that insect meal has already reached cost-effectiveness. “Today, it is becoming price-competitive with fishmeal. Further pressure on fishmeal supplies may only exacerbate the situation and strengthen the case of insect meal as an alternative to fishmeal,” said Verhoestraete.

“Moreover, the farming of black soldier fly is not impacted by seasonality as can be done year-round with the right environmental conditions and, therefore, does not rely on seasonal fish catches and stocks for fishmeal. This ensures a more consistent and reliable supply of protein for aquafeed manufacturers,” Diana said.

Single-cell proteins

“Produced by fermentation technology, single-cell proteins (SCPs) provide readily available, protein-rich microbial biomass, in the form of yeast, bacteria, algae or fungi. These naturally selected microorganisms can convert platform molecules into proteins suited to expand the raw material basket beyond conventional sources,” said Louise Buttle, Sustell lead for aqua and global key account manager, dsm-firmenich.

“SCPs will provide access to a new, sustainable and virtually unlimited source of high-quality concentrated protein with the same amino acid profile as fishmeal. It is able to substitute fishmeal’s protein fraction 1:1 and will fill any gap that fishmeal (and other traditional sources of proteins) might create in the future,” said Olivier Hartz, commercial development lead, Unibio.

“Trials in trout conducted demonstrated equivalent rates of growth and survival, as well as superior palatability, which ultimately results in less wasted feed. Early studies in vannamei shrimp have shown protective effects against Acute Hepatopancreatic Necrosis Disease,” said David Tze, CEO of Novonutrients.

Some SCPs have additional functional properties that can be used strategically. “Incorporated into feed, SCPs can also bring attributes similar to an additive in order to improve production efficiencies. For example, around transition periods where stress and opportunistic diseases can cause catastrophic losses on a farm, the inclusion of our SCP provides a demonstrated difference. These problems can be exacerbated in low-fishmeal feeds, as fishmeal has well-documented health benefits,” said Larry Feinberg, CEO and co-founder at KnipBio. “Layer in the potential with biotechnology, and we are entering into a new realm of programable, tailored nutrition as generations of products can be developed very quickly.”

As in the case of insect meal, SCP producers highlight that production is not affected by climatic or other environmental challenges. “The production process also guarantees greater control of product quality, product safety and traceability. Finally, the raw materials – methane, oxygen, and ammonia – are available in almost unlimited quantities and do not compete with food use as opposed to fishmeal,” Hartz said.

And these feedstocks also have an impact on sustainability. “By utilizing methane as a feedstock, we not only provide a reliable protein source but also contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, promoting sustainability in line with the industry's focus,” said Ezhil Subbian, CEO of StringBio.


Algae-based and plant-based oils are the alternatives to fish oil offering products with a high omega-3 content and more consistent raw material source.

“Algal oil gives formulators more control over the nutritional quality of aquafeed and production is scalable to support aquaculture growth. This enables aquafeed producers to deliver optimum omega nutrition which leads to documented performance and quality benefits for the farmers, increasing the productivity of the industry as a whole,” said Ian Carr, global business development director, Veramaris.

“Through a combination of scientific and commercial trials, fish feeds containing algal oil – even up to 100% replacement of fish oil – were found to be suitable for various fish and shrimp species, without any negative effects on growth, performance or animal health,” Carr said.

From the sustainability point of view, the production of algae oils is unique. “We completed a full Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) demonstrating that the omega-3 from DHA oil has a lower carbon footprint than traditional fish oil sources,” Ruud Peerbooms, president algae ingredients at Corbion.

Technology has also allowed the production of DHA oil/powder-based products. “This new production of omega-3 from Schizochytrium sp. will allow the potential to move us to a complete fishmeal/fish oil diet and with the inclusion of phytase reduce the reliance on the phosphorus component of fishmeal while utilizing the phosphorous from phytate which is normally very high in plant-based materials,” said Robert Serwata, global product manager nutrition at Huvepharma.

Omega-3 canola oil is another option that has shown good results in fish-free aquafeeds. “Canola oil is demonstrated as an excellent source for DHA and EPA omega-3 with no detriment and has shown to feed conversion ratio, feed intake, or fish health,” said Katrina Benedicto, sustainability director at Nuseed Nutritional. “In addition to supplying DHA and EPA, omega-3 canola oil profile also has a more favorable omega-6:omega-3 ratio than typical vegetable oils. While conventional canola has a ratio of 2:1 in favor of omega-6, Aquaterra improves this balance with a 1:4 ratio in favor of omega-3.”


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Feed additives: Improving digestibility

Feed additives are key when replacing fishmeal and fish oil. “In fishmeal and fish oil replacement strategies, feed additives bring flexibility to the formulator to make better use of other fish-free ingredients and maintain the performance of aquafeeds with less or no fish ingredients,” said Martin Guerin, regional technical manager aquaculture APAC/IS, Adisseo. A key issue in these strategies is increasing the digestibility of alternative ingredients with worse performance than fishmeal or fish oil.

Let’s start with oils. “Replacing fish oil with conventional lipid sources (vegetable or animal-based oils) in fish diets reduces growth performance and FCR as well as product quality, such as reduced omega-3/omega-6 ratio in fillets and increased fat deposition in body tissues,” said Sofia Morais, innovation aqua team leader, Lucta. “Pungent spices that are known modulators of lipid and bile acids metabolism in vertebrates enhance the metabolic use of fats (in opposition to its deposition), and have the potential to increase the activity of bile salt-activated lipase and improve the omega-3/omega-6 ratio in the fillet.”

“In shrimp, lysophospholipid-based digestive and metabolic enhancer supports fish oil and lecithin replacement bringing feed cost reduction while maintaining feed performance. Bile salt-based products also allow for partial replacement of supplemented cholesterol, bringing significant cost reduction while maintaining feed performance,” explained Petter Cotteau, business unit director aquaculture, Adisseo. “In fish feeds, lysophospholipid-based products maximize nutrient absorption and utilization leading to improved feed intake, growth performance, fillet yield and pigmentation.”

“Biosurfactants with functional properties improve the absorption of fatty acids and anything miscible in oil as well as the retention of proteins and energy by fish in recent trials on salmon smolts and European seabass. With low-energy diets and reducing fish oil, it has been proven that they help maintain fish performance, do not impact fish growth and tend to reduce feed conversion,” said Emmanuel Pruvost, global EMEA sales manager at Kemin AquaScience™. “A synergistic combination of active ingredients (lysophospholipids, monoglycerides, synthetic emulsifier and butyrates) improves the absorption of fatty acids and other nutrients (amino acids, pigments, vitamins), contributing to intestinal and hepatic health and promoting growth performance.”

In terms of proteins, a key issue is anti-nutritional factors. “Botanical-based additives can support aquafeed formulators in addressing the challenge of reducing the reliance on fishmeal in aquafeeds by promoting intestinal integrity and immune function. In addition, it may contribute to improving intestinal cell integrity to ensure better nutrient utilization in low fish aquafeeds which can lead to better growth performance and feed conversion efficiency,” said Simeon Fagnon, innovation product manager at Phytosynthese.

“Furthermore, anti-nutritional factors from alternative proteins are often the reason for an impaired gut biome. The resulting reduced gut integrity and gut inflammation are driving factors for low feed efficiency and secondary infections. Yeast-based prebiotics and especially probiotics can counteract the effects by supporting a favorable gut microflora. Pathogen proliferation is inhibited by direct binding and removal of pathogens, e.g. by mannans (MOS). Probiotic bacteria compete indirectly for nutrients and space but also produce lactic acid and antimicrobial substances to directly push back pathogens. Plus, some strains can produce digestive enzymes that also contribute to a higher digestibility of alternative raw materials,” explained Valentin Eckart, product manager Aqua Application at Biochem.

“Selected plant extracts improve the digestive capacity of fish and shrimp, especially on protein digestion. It allows the reduction of fishmeal, but also the crude protein content of feed while safeguarding quality. Trials have also shown that it may help in using alternative and cheaper raw materials,” said Pierre Fortin, aquaculture manager, Techna.

Feed additives: Palatants

“High-quality fishmeal is the main driver of feed palatability and intake. In the context of low supply, palatability enhancers allow for standardization of the feed intake and give peace of mind to the formulator who can focus on nutritional requirements without worry about feed palatability,” said Vincent Percier, marketing and strategic development director – Aqua Feed, Symrise Aqua feed.

“Palatability enhancers supplement feeds with chemosensory attractive substances naturally present in fishmeal and other marine ingredients but lacking in many alternative ingredients commonly used to replace fishmeal and fish oil. These substances are important feeding cues that enable fish and shrimp to quickly identify food items in the water column as nutritious and palatable, and increase appetite when animals are presented with bland feeds,” Morais explained. “When associated with good feeding management, they can reduce feed waste with clear economic and ecological benefits.”

“In fish-free aquafeed, betaine will stimulate the feed intake of fish and shrimp. Additionally, it can act as an osmoregulator, reducing cellular stress,” said Matthijs de Jong, Central Technical Manager at Orffa Additives.

“As most aquaculture species are carnivores and are not adapted to the taste of alternative protein sources such as vegetable meals and oils, off-flavors can reduce the attractiveness of the feed. Palatants can mask these undesirable flavors and maintain or even increase feed intake. Even relatively small amounts of 1-2% hydrolyzed proteins in combination with some nucleic acids such as from yeast have shown positive results,” added Eckart.

Feed additives: Enzymes

“As we move towards mainly plant-based raw materials for feed formulation, the inactivation of phytate or non-starch polysaccharides becomes vital as fish are not able to deactivate these anti-nutritional factors,” said Daniel Arana, global product manager aquaculture at Huvepharma. “The inclusion of phytase reduces the reliance on the phosphorus component of fishmeal while utilizing the phosphorous from phytate which is normally very high in plant-based materials.”

“The potential of enzymatic products has been overlooked due to the comfort and familiarity associated with the use of fishmeal in feeds for aquaculture. In Latin America, fishmeal usage in shrimp feeds typically ranges from 5-15%, while in Southeast Asia, it can be as high as 30%,” said Herve Lucien Brun, Jefo Aquaculture Team.

“The strategic use of enzymes in aquafeeds can change this situation. Several trials have shown the efficacy of exogenous enzymes over the use of plant-based protein sources in terms of performance and overall results,” said Kurt Servin, Jefo Aquaculture Team. “Several positive effects other than cost saving on feed are improved digestibility, increased levels of free amino acids, enhanced peptide release and better gut health, among others.”

Feed additives: Micro-ingredients

“By replacing fishmeal and fish oil with proteins and oils of plant origin, we may reduce not only the amount of available amino acids and omega-3 fatty acids in the feed, but also the content of essential minerals such as zinc, selenium, and iron, among others,” said Cláudia Figueiredo-Silva, global technical services - Aquaculture, Zinpro. “Minerals can support the aquafeed industry in different ways through diverse applications given their key role in different metabolic and physiological functions from animal growth, stress resistance and immune response.”

“Supplementation with traditionally used inorganic mineral sources does not answer the animal demands because the levels required to meet animal needs are higher than some current recommendations based on laboratory-scale trials and may exceed some regulatory limits such as the case of selenium,” Figueiredo-Silva explained.

Selenium deficiencies may occur during a period of low fishmeal and fish oil supply in fish and shrimp. “Selenium deficiencies are often followed by a decrease in growth, but even more importantly a decrease in overall animal health and disease resilience,” said Matthijs de Jong, Central Technical Manager at Orffa Additives. “Adding selenium to the diet, animals grow better and at the same time, an increased survival is observed against a wide variety of diseases, such as bacterial outbreaks and sea lice contaminations.”

Plant-based proteins have high levels of phytate, a valuable source of phosphorus. “Enzymes like phytase could help get better access to these valuable ingredients and organic acids may help bring down pH for higher enzyme activity. Moreover, inorganic minerals should be avoided, since they can build indigestible complexes with phytate, which will be then excreted and pollute the environment. Organically bound trace minerals, such as glycinates, on the other hand, do not have these properties and are preferable in modern diets,” Eckart said.

In the second part of this series, we will assess the challenges for feed formulators to address all these alternatives.