The Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC) last night announced over £140,000 support for two projects aimed at improving salmon feed formulations, amplified by over a quarter of a million pounds of funding from industry and academic partners.
The two new projects – which mark SAIC’s first feeds-related projects and mean that the Centre is now active across all four areas identified as being priorities for innovation – were announced at an 80-strong consortium member event attended by industry, academia and Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity, Fergus Ewing MSP.
Mr Ewing stated: “I am thrilled to see such innovative thinking as we look for ways to increase sustainable production across the sector. Scottish salmon is Scotland’s single biggest food export and adds considerable value to our economy as a whole. Projects like these not only help the industry to grow economically but bring value through jobs, sustainability and environmental benefits. I want to see finfish and shellfish aquaculture continue to thrive, growing sustainably and led by world-leading science, innovation and research. I welcome the contribution of SAIC, in partnership with both industries.”
The first project, led by BioMar in partnership with supermarket giant Morrisons, the Institute of Aquaculture at the University of Stirling and SARIA, will address a core challenge for the salmon farming industry: identifying alternative protein sources that are locally sourced and have low environmental impact, for use in feeds. It aims to highlight key issues and develop a roadmap to explore the use of avian-derived protein (from poultry).
Currently, global salmon feed production relies on three major protein sources: soy meal, fish meal and land animal protein. However, in the UK industry there is a higher proportion of ingredients from marine resources and imported vegetable protein sources like soy protein concentrates. Adopting avian protein could significantly reduce feed costs and, in doing so, overall production costs.
Although Chilean and Australian salmon farming sectors have been using avian proteins for over a decade without issue, there are still some challenges around consumer acceptance of introducing these products into the UK’s food chain. Morrisons’ Fisheries & Aquaculture Manager Huw Thomas says: “As one of the UK’s largest supermarket retailers, we are committed to ensuring our seafood sourcing programme uses methods which are the least detrimental to the marine environment. This project will explore decreasing our reliance on marine resources for fish feed. If this concept proves acceptable to our customers, we could change our feed ingredient policy.”
The project will also be innovative in its cross-sector approach, spanning the supply chain from raw material producer (SARIA), to feed producer (BioMar), through to UK retailer of farmed salmon (Morrisons). States Dr Karolina Kwasek, Product Developer at BioMar: “With data and insights incorporated from a multi-disciplinary research team of social scientists, biochemists, nutritionists and pathologists, the consortium covers the full salmon value chain and the power to influence change will be greater than ever before in the UK. Working with supply chain partners like SARIA, we can ensure that the adoption of avian protein into the UK aquaculture feed industry also guarantees better use of food chain by-products, resulting in significant environmental savings through more efficient use of local resources and the reduction of imported ingredients.”
The initial six-month phase will focus on collecting data from retailers and consumers to identify the issues related to adopting avian proteins, and will cost £68,144 – of which SAIC is contributing £40,907. If consumer perception around avian proteins is found to be positive, later phases of the project could comprise nutritional and fish quality analysis.
The second SAIC-supported feeds project will see natural animal health and nutrition specialist Alltech partner with the University of Glasgow, Marine Harvest and NOFIMA to explore a key cause of poor growth in salmon: inefficient digestion, linked to the fish’s metabolic rate.
Intestinal microbes are known to play a central role in how fish metabolise and harvest energy from feed, and greater understanding of these processes could reveal routes to improve growth efficiency of salmon. To this end, the team will develop a new experimental tool – SalmoSim – to explore the link between gut microbial communities and feed digestion.
The University of Glasgow’s Dr Martin Llewellyn says: “Once established, the SalmoSim system will be a significant resource and research tool for the salmonid aquaculture industry in Scotland and Europe, as well as for basic science in the region. As such, we expect it will create added value by which other scientists and aquaculture companies across the world can access the technology to test scientific theories and novel compounds.”
Alltech already operates a successful equivalent ex vivo gut model for dairy cows and a number of nutrigenomic platforms in its applied research capacity. However, there is currently no system available for fish. Alltech’s international project manager for aquaculture, John Sweetman says: “The combined forces of customer demands for sustainable and ethically-reared fish, profitability and regulatory pressure for therapeutic-free aquaculture drives this research initiative. The potential for improving feed efficiency and maintaining optimal health status will benefit the industry and consumer alike.”
The total project cost is £360,055, of which £101,644 is contributed by SAIC.
Heather Jones, CEO at SAIC adds: “These two projects not only meet our priority innovation area focusing on feed quality and nutrition but come about as a direct result of industry-identified needs after our workshop on sustainable feeds. Salmon farming is an expanding sector that requires continual innovation in feed technology to sustain its growth, whether through innovating feed compounds or technologies to optimise nutrition. SAIC is proud to support projects which achieve this through sustainable practices and, in turn, boost the productivity of the aquaculture industry in Scotland.”
Also unveiled at the inaugural consortium event was SAIC’s 2015/16 annual review.