Developing an algae-based food to replace fishmeal in fish farming

Project Overview

Developing a New Feed Protein Complex to Replace Fishmeal in Fish Farming

Fish producers have looked to plant-based solutions for sustainable fish feed ingredients, but challenges persisted in finding the right recipe that keeps costs down, and keeps fish healthy and nutritious. This study, supported by Cornell AES Hatch funds, represents both the potential and challenges of using microalgae in aquafeed to replace feed based on fish products.

Fish prove to be a reliable source of high-quality protein and polyunsaturated fatty acids that may decrease risks of chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and cancer. Although fish is an excellent dietary source of those nutrients, the average annual fish consumption is only 6.5 kilograms per person in the U.S., partially due to limited local production and high cost of imported seafood. Expansion of local and domestic aquaculture is also hindered by the high cost of fish feed, which relies on expensive, animal-based ingredients. Fish producers have looked to plant-based solutions for fish feed ingredients, but challenges persisted in finding the right recipe that both keeps costs down and keeps fish healthy and nutritious for consumption.

This project sought alternative diets for fish, substituting expensive fish meal, fish oil and astaxathin — a bioactive antioxidant compound that occurs naturally in certain algae — with different combinations of microalgae, soybean meal and other plant-based ingredients to find the optimal mix. The research included two parallel experiments on more than 600 fish, across 16 weeks, examining 12 diet variables. Performed in well-equipped federal research facilities, the project team focused their fish diet study on rainbow trout, which is cultured in 69 countries and supports a $2.4 billion global industry. The U.S. alone produces over 20,000 metric tons of rainbow trout in freshwater systems annually, making it the eighth-largest producer worldwide. A staple for New York state hatcheries and farms, rainbow trout also has one of the highest protein requirements among fish and is a well-established model for aquaculture research, making it a prime candidate for this study.

The Impacts

This project addresses major real-world issues of food, feed, fuel and health. The project team developed laboratory and animal evaluation systems that allow for comparisons of how fish process essential nutrients from various ingredients. These systems help rank the effectiveness of different fish feed recipes that substitute fishmeal, fish oil and astaxanthin. The intended technology will enable fish producers to use more sustainable and competitive feed ingredients than fishmeal and fish oil to enhance local fish production. Crop producers will be able to sell soybeans and microalgae as fish feed at a higher volume, earning higher profits. Feed and biofuel companies can develop new products to compete for the global markets. The general public and next generations can benefit from enhanced local production and supply of nutritious fish, as well as decreased use of land and fresh water for energy, food and feed production. Overall, this research will help improve food security and public health — and make food and biofuel production in the U.S. more competitive and sustainable.

Xingen Lei and his studies

Principal Investigator

Project Details

  • Funding Source: Hatch
  • Statement Year: 2020
  • Status: Completed project
  • Topics: Fish farming, algae, food security, sustainability