Development of Aquafeeds For Emerging Tropical Marine Species talked to Dr. Benetti, to learn what he meant when he commented on the problem with aquafeeds for tropical marine fish at a recent USEEC meeting.
May 13, 2015

Dr. Daniel Benetti is a Professor and the Director of Aquaculture at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. talked to Dr. Benetti, to learn what he meant when he commented on the problem with aquafeeds for tropical marine fish at a recent USEEC meeting, and which we reported on last week.

\"Most \"specialized\" feeds targeted at, and widely sold for emerging tropical marine fish species such as cobia, grouper, pompano, snapper, Seriola - to name a few - are considered \"black boxes\" because the nutritional requirements and the digestibility of ingredients used for formulating and manufacturing the feeds for these species are mostly unknown\", he said. \"On the top of that, 90% of the ingredients used for manufacturing the feeds for these species are commodities and changed according to price and availability. It\'s not uncommon to even visually note obvious differences among different batches of the \"same\" feed manufactured to contain the same crude protein and crude fat content, for example\".

Benetti noted that it is not only different species that have different nutritional requirements, most of which are still unknown, but even the same species will change their requirement at different developmental stages. The little that\'s known about requirements and digestibility of ingredients for these tropical marine fish species is based on studies of small fish, juveniles, which utilize a small portion of the overall feed in terms of tonnage and cost (80% of the total feeds is used during the growout stages), Benetti said. As a consequence, since the nutritional requirements of the fish being raised are not being met, their aquaculture performance in terms of growth, feed conversion and survival is poor. Thus, new operations raising marine fish in the region are losing money primarily because of the high costs of the feeds, high FCRs, and poor fish health, said Benetti: \"With FCRs above 2 (often above 2.5) and feeds costs above $2 per kg, the numbers simply don\'t work\".

\"Bottom line is the feeds companies are not investing enough resources into R&D to improve their \"specialized\" products for new species. In fact, it\'s not that the producers must develop their own feeds, but it\'s the companies producing new emerging species are the ones investing resources in nutritional studies to develop better feeds\".

Benetti said this was understandable, because - unlike salmon, tilapia, carp and shrimp, for example, where the market is huge and lots of resources have been invested in R&D to get to the excellent standards they\'ve reached with feeds - there\'s a perception that the market for feeds for new emerging species such as cobia, snapper and pompano is still relatively small. \"In reality, the market in the region has already grown to about $20 million a year and continues to grow\", he said.

\"This is surprising because it\'s well known that R&D pays off. Indeed, as discussed during the workshop, the one company that invested in research to determine digestibility of ingredients for a tropical marine fish species has capitalized 10 fold on their investment in less than two years\".

Benetti was referring to Biomar, an aquafeed company that\'s investing resources in R&D and has its nutritionists working in collaboration with academics and the private sector to study the nutritional requirements and digestibility of ingredients of emerging species of tropical marine fish.

\"They are improving the knowledge in the field and enhancing the quality of the diets\", he acknowledged, adding that the soybean groups had contributed greatly to enhance the collective knowledge about nutrition of tropical marine fish species.

\"Unfortunately, this is the scenario: the producers of emerging tropical marine fish species are losing money while the feeds companies are profiting. This situation is not exclusive to the Americas; it has also been observed in Asia with groupers and cobia, and probably with other species as well\", he concluded.