A Portuguese project, Pep4Fish, aims to explore innovative solutions to strengthen the production of aquaculture fish. By 2025, the project hopes to develop diets that enhance the robustness of European seabass and gilthead seabream, making them more resistant to stress and bacterial infections.
Part of the Blue Bioeconomy Pact, this project brings together multidisciplinary partners from research to industry, promoting circular economy principles. “The development of new, sustainable diets that enhance fish resilience to diseases and improve the final product's quality for consumers will open new perspectives for the future of aquaculture,” explained André Almeida, head of Research at ETSA Group – Animal By-Product Processing Company. He emphasizes that disease prevention and control will help minimize economic losses in the sector.
With the increasing demand for nutritious, healthy, and safe food for human consumption, aquaculture is becoming increasingly relevant worldwide. Currently, it already provides half of the globally consumed fish. The Pep4Fish project will address this growing demand by utilizing animal byproducts such as fish, poultry and pork, as well as alternative resources such as insects, to create innovative value-added products (hydrolysates) for seabass and gilthead seabream feed. These hydrolysates will not only improve fish health but also enhance human nutrition, reduce food waste, and preserve ocean resources.
Thus, the Pep4Fish project also plays an active role in environmental sustainability. “It is a clear commitment to the circular economy. We are reducing waste by reusing and transforming byproducts into food ingredients, specifically targeted for aquaculture diets,” advocates André Almeida.
The Pep4Fish project, included in the Blue Bioeconomy Pact and funded by the Recovery and Resilience Plan (RRP) with around EUR 21.7 million, is led by ETSA Group and involves nine partners, including research centers and companies: AgroGrIN Tech, B2E – Blue Bioeconomy CoLAB (B2E CoLAB), CIIMAR – Interdisciplinary Centre for Marine and Environmental Research, ITS - Industrial By-Product Processing Company (ETSA), Seaculture (Jerónimo Martins), Savinor and Sorgal (Soja Portugal), Sebol (ETSA), and the Portuguese Catholic University.
In addition to scientific research, the project promotes an open and collaborative approach with industrial applicability, including significant investment in companies to increase necessary production capacity. With this project, two new diets will be developed for the industry, one for seabass and another for gilthead seabream, based on four new hydrolysates produced in Portugal.
The initial tests are already underway at CIIMAR. Three hydrolysates with antioxidant and antimicrobial properties were selected for the first trial with seabass. Researchers are monitoring the animals' development to observe improvements in their health, growth, and resistance to adverse conditions.
At the Portuguese Catholic University, responsible for developing new hydrolysates, progress has led to the obtaining of the first avian hydrolysates with evidence of antioxidant activity.
By 2025, the Pep4Fish project will continue to explore and deepen the use of hydrolysates in aquaculture, with the goal of enhancing sustainable marine fish production.