We present research which aims to help improve the efficiency of thriving aquaculture sectors, create new opportunities in underexploited aquaculture sectors, and provide methodologies to reach a larger consumer market with sustainable and nutritious fish and seafood. Key topics include: nFIFO as a new metric to assess the micronutrient efficiency of fed aquaculture, value chain exploitation and new species opportunities in the bivalve sector, and food preparation and marketing approaches to drive consumption of sustainable fish and seafood.
Improving the efficiency of thriving aquaculture sectors 1, 2
Aquaculture is the world’s fastest growing food sector, and many industries such as salmon farming are thriving . The salmon industry grew by 270% since 1998 to become the most valuable sector in aquaculture at USD $23 billion in 2018. Salmon farming has perhaps unfairly received bad publicity on its use of wild-caught fish in feed, and has in reality made remarkable progress, with Fish-in Fish-out (FIFO) ratios now close to 1:1, having been 4:1 in the 1990s. However, FIFO does not capture the micronutrient content of feed and farmed species.
We have developed a new tool, nutritional Fish-in Fish-out (nFIFO), which enables practitioners to assess the micronutrient efficiency of fed aquaculture systems, and identify scenarios to enhance nutrient rich seafood production. For example, f or salmon farmed in Norway in 2020, nFIFO exceeded one for seven of nine dietary micro nutrients that are essential in human diets, indicating salmon farms consume substantially more micro nutrients than are produced as seafood. We identified a reallocation system by which directing one-third of edible fish in feed for human consumption, we could increase seafood provisioning for people and create new by-products to further support the salmon sector . Application of this research to the salmon industry and to other fed aquaculture sectors can allow us to make more efficient use of limited global fishmeal and fish oil supplies, support further growth in fed aquaculture, and provide a greater quantity of micronutrients from seafood to people.
Creating opportunities in underexploited aquaculture sectors 3, 4, 5
Bivalves are rich in protein, essential fatty acids and key micronutrients, and have a lower environmental impact than other sources of protein. However, conventional bivalve farming has limiting problems making the sector financially less attractive than others such as finfish or crustacean farming. Specifically, problems include food safety in increasingly polluted open marine environments, slow growth rates versus fish, costly processing, transport and storage. Bivalves are also far less popular as a consumer product relative to other meat or finfish products. Aside from a few select nations such as Portugal, most of European food manufacturer, retail and consumer interest in bivalves is weak compared to southeast Asia.
We have performed value chain analyses in collaboration with Europe’s largest frozen food manufacturer, and identified key opportunities that could enable bivalve to become a popular mass-market consumer food. This includes new innovations in depuration, storage, food processing and technology. We have also carried out laboratory trials on terenids , bivalves which could potentially offer an order of magnitude faster growth rate than mussels, clams or oysters. There may be an opportunity to create a new sector in terenid aquaculture, and we have begun to gather critical data including nutritional profile and growth data that underpin further concept development.
Methodologies to reach a larger consumer market 6
Finfish and seafood are one of our richest sources of key nutrients such as omega-3, which play a critical role in child development, brain, and cardiovascular health. Yet consumption of fish and seafood varies greatly by global region, and there are many areas where consumption is markedly lower than recommended or nutritionally beneficial. For example, while consumption of bivalves is as high as 100 kg per capita in Shandong in China, the EU average is below 1kg per capita. While the NHS in the UK recommends around 140 g of oily fish per week , NDNS data show the mean consumption of oily fish in adults aged 19-64 is just 56 g per week.
We are performing research to identify several methodologies which could enable a greater proportion of the consumer market to access and consume nutritious seafood, and most critically in sustainable way. National surveys have allowed us to identify key behavioural levers which could help drive the consumption of sustainable bivalve meat in place of less sustainable meat products. Catering trials have allowed us to investigate the impact of ‘hiding’ bivalve meat in popular consumer dishes in place of conventional meat on consumption patterns. We are assessing ways by which we could get consumers to consume ‘under loved’ components of fish and seafood, such as heads, bellies and viscera, that would otherwise go to non-human uses. In addition, we have performed focus studies to look at how we could provide pregnant mothers and babies, a group who could benefit greatly from the nutrients in fish and seafood, with greater knowledge about and access to fish and seafood.
1 Willer, D. F., Robinson, J. P. W., Patterson, G. T. & Luyckx, K. Maximising sustainable nutrient production from coupled fisheries-aquaculture systems. Plos Sustain Transformation 1, e0000005 (2022).
2 Willer, D. F., Netwon, R., Malcorps , W., Kok, B., Little, D., Lofstedt, A., De Roos , B., Robinson, J. P. W. Nutritional efficiency approach to increase production and consumption of fish and seafood. In Review
3 Willer, D. F., Nicholls, R. J. & Aldridge, D. C. Opportunities and challenges for upscaled global bivalve seafood production. Nat Food 2, 935–943 (2021).
4 Willer, D. F. & Aldridge, D. C. From Pest to Profit—The Potential of Shipworms for Sustainable Aquaculture. Frontiers Sustain Food Syst 4, 575416 (2020).
5 Willer, D. F., Aldridge, D., Shipway, R. A new form of intensive sustainable aquaculture using nutritious terenids. In Preparation
6 Gawel, J. Aldridge, D. C., Willer, D. F. Barriers and drivers to increasing sustainable bivalve seafood consumption in a mass market economy. In Review.