FAO/NACA project aims to switch marine finfish farming from trash fish to formulated aquafeeds in Asia
FAO has approved a regional project entitled “Reducing the dependence on the utilization of trash fish/ low value fish as feed for aquaculture of marine finfish in the Asian region” under the auspices of the FAO Technical Cooperation program. The project involves China, Indonesia, Thailand and Viet Nam and will assist development of sustainable grouper farming systems in these countries.
This project is a result of a recommendation of the 18th NACA Governing Council Meeting in Bali, Indonesia, May 2006, based on the importance of the growing mariculture sector in the region and issues relating to its long term sustainability, one of the main ones being the use of trash/ low valued fish as direct feed.
The two-year project will be coordinated by NACA in conjunction with the FAO Aquaculture Management & Conservation Service (FIMA), Fisheries and Aquaculture Department and the FAO Regional Office in Bangkok. Each of the participating countries has appointed country coordinators who will supervise the operations in each country and will liaise with NACA and FAO.
The first activity of the project, “Inception Planning Workshop” is scheduled to be held in Krabi, Thailand, 8th to 10th of September, and will bring together national coordinators, private sector representatives and FAO personnel.
Marine finfish aquaculture in Asia has been developing rapidly at around 10 percent per annum, valued at 4 percent per annum of the global finfish production over the last decade, and is the fastest growing sub-sector in Asia. Much of this increasing production is attributable to the expanding culture of high-value marine carnivorous species such as groupers. The countries that lead in marine finfish aquaculture currently are PR China, Indonesia, Viet Nam and Thailand, as well Korea and Japan, with India planning major expansion. However, the sub-sector is by and large dependent on trash fish/low-value fish, almost always as the only food source of the cultured stocks. It has been estimated that the marine aquaculture sector in China in 2000 consumed about 4 million tonnes of ‘trash fish/low-value fish’ and demand for trash fish/low-value fish is likely to increase unless viable alternatives to trash fish/low-value fish are made available and used, and also the efficacy of use of these feed sources is improved. For example, Edwards et al. (2004) estimated that the total use of `trash fish/low-value fish’ by the aquaculture industry in Viet Nam was between 176,420 and 323,440 tonnes in 2001 and it is further projected that by the year 2013, the requirement for Viet Nam would be about one million tonnes (De Silva and Hasan, 2007).
The use of trash fish/low value fish is a contentious issue both from a resource use view point and an environmental integrity perspective; the latter being reflected in the very high conversion rates (therefore poor efficiency), ranging from 7 to 15: 1 in average grouper farming practices, 4:1 to 6:1 in crab fattening practices and so forth. In the Asian region one of the fastest growing mariculture commodities is grouper, about six species in all, and currently (2005) accounting for about 65,362 tonnes and growing. Grouper farming however, almost exclusively is still dependent on trash fish as the major food source. The long term sustenance, economic viability and environmental integrity of marine finfish aquaculture practices in the region will essentially depend on the shift from direct use of trash fish/low-value fish to formulated feeds, It is expected that this will reduce the overall dependence on trash fish/low-value fish as a direct food source, improve the environmental integrity of the practices and bring about better economic viability. The problems outlined are common to all nations involved in marine finfish farming in Asia and therefore it is logical to have a regional approach that incorporates farmers and furthermore a regional approach will also generate significant synergies. The small scale marine finfish farmers are of the perception that trash fish/low-value fish are more effective and result in better performance of the stock, are relatively easily procured (a significant quantum of farmers sourcing their daily needs locally) and cost effective. On the other hand, usage of trash fish/low-value fish results in the discharge of higher nitrogen and phosphorous levels into the environment, and overall the very limited information available indicate that it is not as cost effective as commonly perceived by farmers. All of these factors will lead to problems of sustainability of the practices and will adversely impact on the livelihoods in the long term.
This matter has been identified as a regional priority by the Asia-Pacific Fishery Commission (APFIC) which endorsed a regional plan of action sat its 29th Session5 for reduction of dependence upon trash fish as aquaculture feeds. One of the priority actions was the widespread conversion of aquaculture systems dependent upon fresh fish to the use of compounded aquaculture feeds. The FAO Committee on Fisheries (COFI) in its 27th Session held in Rome, 5-9 March 2007 also recognized the importance of this issue and recommended further work by FAO on the use of low-value trash fish in aquafeeds.
Taking into account the importance of the issue the Governing Council of the Network of Aquaculture Centers in Asia-Pacific (NACA) at its 18th Meeting held in Bali, Indonesia unanimously recommended the need to initiate a regional project to reduce the dependence on trash fish/ low value fish in marine fish farming in Asia amongst small scale farmers, the back bone of the sector. This issue was also taken up at the recently held FAO Expert Workshop on “Use of wild fish and/or other aquatic species to feed cultured fish and its implications to food security and poverty alleviation”, held in Kochi, India in November 2007, and the workshop strongly recommended that work on encouraging farmers to use compounded feeds in mariculture is urgently needed.
The present project is expected to address this issue through direct involvement of farmers in reducing the perception that trash fish/ low value fish perform better than pellet feeds and thereby introduce a transition from the use of one feed form to the other, and consequently contribute to overall sustainability of the sector in Asia, and the livelihoods of the many thousands of farmers involved.
The overall outcome of the project will be a reduced dependence on trash fish (and marine resources) for marine finfish farming in Asia. The outcome will be achieved through a combination of improved feed practices and a shift in the sector towards better diets, and particularly the use of formulated diets. This outcome will increase the long term viability of marine fish farm operations and improve the livelihood of practitioners and contribute to poverty alleviation.
The project outputs include establishing a scientifically vigorous database on the advantages of using pellet feeds, development of better management practices for improving efficiency of marine finfish feeding and building capacity amongst practitioners on improved feed management, and dissemination through farmer organisations such as “aquaclubs” on the procedures involved and using such organisations to develop a credit scheme for procuring feeds.
The project will contribute to national programs of marine finfish culture in the immediate participating countries, viz., China, Indonesia, Thailand and Viet Nam, and through NACA’s networking mechanisms will have a widespread impact on marine finfish farming nations throughout the Asian region.