A non-animal, non-vegetable feed for fish farms could help reduce the negative impacts of our fish consumption. Fish is likely an inevitable part of how the world will meet the protein demands of over 9 billion people by 2050, and the World Bank predicts that fish farms will produce nearly two thirds of global supply by 2030.
Fish feed is currently made with a mix of wild-caught fish and fish trimmings; commodities such as soy, wheat and corn; and byproducts from pork and poultry farming - ingredients with significant negative impacts, including ocean ecosystems damage caused by overfishing and ghost gear, soil erosion caused by pesticides and fertilisers used, and deforestation.
A bacterium may provide an environmentally friendly alternative. Calysta, a California-based company that produces industrial products for the food and energy sectors, is using methylococcus bacteria to develop a product called FeedKind™ Protein. The bacteria can be placed in fermentation tanks and fed methane; after being spun at high speed to remove water, the bacteria become dried pellets that can be fed to fish. The idea was first introduced in the 1980s by Norwegian oil and gas company Statoil, which sold Calysta the technology in 2014. In February, Calysta received funding from Cargill for product development, commercial manufacturing, and marketing. The companies expect to collaborate on bringing FeedKind to market. Cargill has previously invested in other feed suppliers as well.
FeedKind requires no agricultural land, no fertilisers or pesticides, little water, and places no demand on wild caught fisheries. As a bacteria, it is rather cheap and easy to produce, and Calysta has prepared cell banks to allow fermentations to be run – similar to how farmers use seed repositories.
The main drawback of FeedKind is its reliance on low-cost sources of methane. Statoil cancelled the project in the ‘80s because the natural gas to run the fermenter was too expensive. The prominence of fracking makes it more feasible in the US. (And while the recent methane leak in California was massive, there are also opportunities for California to capture methane through less risky technologies such as dairy methane digesters.)
Calysta’s CEO Alan Shaw told The Guardian that the goal is not to replace conventional fish feed but to provide alternative sources of protein to supplement the fast-growing market. A research and development facility is under construction in the UK, slated to open this fall, and the company is aiming to get approval and build facilities in the US by 2018. Once a US plant is in operation, Calysta aims to produce 200,000 tonnes of feed by 2020. This amount would be a great deal more than insect- or algae-based fish meal facilities have thus far been able to produce, while conventional feed factories that use fish byproducts or soy can produce up to 500,000 tonnes per year.
The sustainability of the fish farms themselves is also something to consider. Luckily, industry improvements and innovative techniques such as 3D ocean farming are on the rise. Meanwhile, organizations are finding new ways to reduce illegal fishing, such as through the use of satellite imagery, and are working to bolster the credibility sustainable seafood through DNA testing.