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In Depth: How Algal Oil for Aquaculture Could Help Capture Value in the Food Industry

Estimates peg the global aquaculture industry at about a $175 billion market, expected to grow to $225 billion by 2022,  and salmon aquaculture alone accounts for 70% of that total. However, two-thirds of the world’s fish stocks today are either fished at their limit or over-fished, according to to an analysis by the Bren School of Environmental Science and Earth Management at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the Environmental Defense Fund. 

Each year 16 million metric tons of fish are caught solely to produce fish meal and fish oil, with 80% of the fish oil going directly to aquaculture feeds to give farmed fish the essential Omega-3 EPA and DHA fatty acids they need for health and growth. But as salmon demand has grown, many fish farmers have had to lower the amount of fish oil fed to aquaculture salmon because of the finite quantity of this natural resource, resulting in an overall decline in the Omega-3 levels in the flesh of the salmon sold to consumers, according to Veramaris, a joint venture between DSM and Evonik that produces algal oil from natural marine microalgae.

Yet one of the reasons people are eating more and more salmon is for the health benefits of its high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids. If the decade-long decline in Omega-3 in salmon can be corrected, it would help to “create and capture value in the food sector,” says Karim Kurmaly, CEO of Veramaris. With that in mind, Veramaris has developed an innovation that uses a natural marine algae to make an algal oil that can replace the fish oil derived from wild caught fish and still gives farmed fish the fatty acids they need for health and growth.

The algal oil enables the food industry to offer a salmon which is rich in both EPA and DHA Omega-3 to satisfy consumer demand for tasty and healthy food, according to the company. A key part of that supply chain bringing fish to consumers is food retailers who are already moving to more sustainable solutions across a variety of food products, and that want the same kinds of initiatives for salmon and other farmed fish. Many forward-looking retailers have already taken up certification programs that allow stickers to be put on food packages to tout various sustainable or responsible farming practices.

“For the first time, we believe the food and retail sector will start to make health claims based on the level of EPA and DHA Omega-3 per salmon serving,” Kurmaly told Environmental Leader. “So now, with appropriate labelling and point of sale messaging, shoppers can make informed choices. This in turn expands the salmon category and supports the increase of the fair share index of retailers.”

Veramaris is opening a Nebraska plant on July 10 with a $200 million dollar foreign investment. The zero-waste plant will produce natural marine algal oil and will reduce the global aquaculture industry’s need for “feeder fish” for farm-raised salmon by 15%, the company says. Veramaris has just inked deals with dominant German retailer Kaufland and French retailer SuperMarché Match, with Veramaris-fed salmon now available in 116 stores in France.

Veramaris isn’t the only company looking to solve the global aquaculture industry’s problems. Dutch food and biochemicals company Corbion Algaprime product is offering a similar solution. And a company called Protix is creating fish feed from insects.

With the aquaculture industry growing at 5% to 6% every year, that is putting unsustainable pressure on the global supply of wild “feeder fish” that are fed to farm raised fish. Veramaris says the Nebraska plant’s annual production can replace 1.2 million metric tons of wild caught fish which would be used in aquaculture feed.

For more on this topic, see Sustainable Seafood a Key to Solving Climate Impact.

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