Insect meal could make an important contribution to the sustainable development of the aquaculture industry.
While the use of insects as a feed in aquaculture is not new and some scientific trials have already been carried out on tilapia and rainbow trout, among other species, NIFES has conducted the first trials with salmon. Results suggest insect meal may become an important ingredient of feed for farmed salmon, while making fish feed more sustainable.
“Insect meal could be a future source of protein in the diet of Atlantic salmon. Insect meal is extremely rich in proteins, and its amino acid make-up is similar to that of fish meal,” said NIFES scientist Erik-Jan Lock.
Insect meal is produced by separation of proteins and fats followed by drying of insect larvae.
“A lot of people think of insect meal as a not particularly delicate food. But insects and insect larvae are important components of the diet of wild fish, so insect meal is one of the most natural things to use for fish-feed,” said Lock, who also points out that using insect-meal has important benefits for the environment.
Important environmental benefits
“Insects can transform all sorts of organic material, such as food waste. Today, we throw out about 20 per cent of all our food. This could instead be a sustainable resource for the production of insects. On a global scale, insect meal based on organic waste could provide three times as much protein as all the soya produced today. In other words, it has great potential,” Lock said.
His views are supported by NIFES director of research Bente Torstensen.
“Insect meal contains all the amino acids that salmon need. Insects can transform carbohydrates, for example from food waste, to nutrients that the fish need, in a form that they can utilise,” said Torstensen, who also emphasises that a thorough survey of potential risks need to be part of future research efforts.
Organic waste can contain environmental toxins and other undesirable substances.
“We need more knowledge about which substances, and how much of them, we are talking about in order to be sure that fish-feed based on insects would be safe for the fish themselves and for consumers,” said Torstensen.
Taste remains intact
Feed for cultivated fish should provide all the nutrients that fish need. These may come from fish oil and fish meal or from other non-traditional ingredients. The availability of resources from the sea has long since reached a ceiling, while the fish-farming industry continues to grow. The rapidly rising demand for fish oil and fish meal has led to feed producers compensating for these ingredients with vegetable raw materials such as rapeseed oil and soya protein. Such plant raw materials can replace a large portion of the marine ingredients in feed, but at the same time they bring new challenges to fish health and changes the nutrient content of fish.
NIFES scientists believe that inclusion of insect meal produced from insect larvae could help to meet the needs of fish for protein and essential amino acids.
“Our experiments have shown that insect protein can replace up to 100 per cent of the fish protein in the salmon diet, without compromising either the growth of the fish or the taste of their flesh,” said Lock.
Lock presented his findings last week when he chaired the aquaculture session at the “Insects to Feed the World” conference organised by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands. There is already a production of insect meal for use in animal feed in the Netherlands. Insect meal contains not only protein but also fatty acids that are beneficial to the health of animals in general.
“These effects also apply to fish”, said Lock.
First trials on salmon
Using insects as a feed in aquaculture is not new, and some scientific trials have already been carried out on tilapia and rainbow trout, among other species, although insect meal has never been brought into use on a large scale. The trials that have been performed at NIFES are the first that involve Atlantic salmon. The insect meal was provided by the Dutch company Protix Biosystems BV, that cultivates insects on a large scale.
“Insect meal could make an important contribution to the sustainable development of the aquaculture industry. We want to do more research in order to develop the necessary knowledge base,” said Lock.