Researchers at West Virginia University have developed a patent-pending technology to turn processing waste into additional revenue for fish producers.
Preparing fish filets for market generates an enormous amount of waste in the form of byproducts – bones, scales, heads, skin, fins -- and ultimately a quantity of meat that winds up in the trash.
“Let’s say you start with 100 pounds of unprocessed fish,” said Jacek Jaczynski, assistant professor of animal and veterinary sciences at WVU. “By the time the filets have been extracted, you have 30 pounds of processed fish for the market and 70 pounds of waste – including considerable meat – that heads straight into the landfill.”
Recognizing a problem with significant economic and environmental repercussions, Jaczynski and his research team set to work developing a system that would allow producers to separate byproducts into three marketable substances.
“After being run through our system, we have recovered meat proteins that can be used in value-added food products, lipids such as fish oil that are high in Omega-3 fatty acids and can be used in dietary supplements, and, for lack of a better term, ‘junk’ that’s high in protein and minerals and can be used as animal feed,” Jaczynski said.
The process has five stages. First, byproducts are homogenized and mixed with water. Then, the pH of the fluid is changed slightly to put the meat proteins into a solution with the water. The substance is then separated into three phases – the protein solution, fats and lipids, and “the junk.” After the three components are separated, the pH of the protein solution is changed again, allowing the now fat-free meat solids to form.
The results are environmentally sound.
“Previously, you couldn’t use too much fish meal in animal feed because the meat would end up smelling like fish because of the fats and oils. The ‘junk’ in this case doesn’t have any fat or oil in it, just proteins and minerals,” Jaczynski explained. “Also, we can use the same water again with new batches, which conserves that resource.”
Jaczynski is now moving on to new phases of research on the project. He’s working with WVU’s Office of Technology Transfer to establish a dedicated laboratory space for the full working model of the protein recovery system, and he’s in talks with producers to establish pilot systems in their enterprises.
His collaborators on the project include research assistant Sarah Beemer, Yi-Chen Chen, a post-doctoral fellow, Latif Taskaya, a visiting scholar from Turkey, and Ken Semmens, aquaculture specialist with the WVU Extension Service.