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New initiatives in the aquaculture industry

September 1, 2022
Aquafeed pouring

Maud Valkenaars works at the Alltech Coppens Aqua Centre (ACAC) in the Netherlands, where she carries out practical and applicable nutrition-driven research. 

Traditionally, fishmeal and fish oil made from wild-caught fish have been the primary sources of protein and fat in fish feed for aquaculture. However, these raw materials will not be enough for production to meet the demand in 2050 if the current feed formulation stays the same. Maud Valkenaars, nutritional researcher at Alltech Coppens, joins the Ag Future podcast to discuss new initiatives in the aquaculture industry that aim to replace traditional protein sources in aquafeeds with sustainable sources of raw materials.

The following is an edited transcript of the Ag Future podcast episode with Maud Valkenaars hosted by Tom Martin. Click below to hear the full audio or listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Google Podcasts.

Tom:            Welcome to Ag Future, presented by Alltech. Join us from the 2022 Alltech ONE Conference as we explore opportunities within agri-food, business and beyond.


                     I'm Tom Martin for the Alltech Ag Future podcast series, and with us is Maud Valkenaars, a nutritional researcher in the quality, research and nutrition department at Alltech Coppens. She is with us today to talk about some of the newest initiatives and most exciting opportunities that will help take the aquaculture industry from good to great. Welcome, Maud.


Maud:           Hello.


Tom:            Consumers have voted with their pocketbooks and made aquaculture foods among the most sustainable protein sources on the market. That's great, but I take it there is still a lot of potential to be met. So, let's begin with those new initiatives. What can you tell us about them?


Maud:           For example, at Alltech Coppens, we have been working the past (few) years on how to really quantify sustainability within aquafeed — so how to create sustainability metrics — to really quantify what the impact of agriculture is, and especially focusing on aquafeed, on the planet. That's also basically one of the major initiatives, I think, that the whole aquaculture sector should be focusing on in the future.


Tom:            We're all focused on sustainability, especially in these times of climate change and so forth. I'm just wondering: What is the role of fish feed and all that in sustainability?


Maud:           Aqua feeds are really high in protein, and protein sources are one of the most expensive raw materials within aquafeeds — and also, aquafeeds are, in farming, one of the most expensive products of the entire farming (system). So, focusing on raw materials that are sustainable really will help grow the agriculture sector. For example, in the past, a lot of fishmeal has been used in feeds, but now we're focusing on the reduction (of using fishmeal). But even that reduction might not be enough because, in 2050, there might be a shortage of fishmeal that we can use in our aquafeeds. It’s really important that we should focus on other raw materials and really (focus on) making aquafeeds more sustainable.


Tom:            Okay, let's talk about your work, the work that you do. Your research focuses on a pair of species, and one of them is the rainbow trout. What have you learned about this species, and what is its potential for the industry — and the consumer, for that matter?


Maud:           Well, rainbow trout is a really — it's already one of the most domesticated fish species that we have. It's highly valued for its high fatty acid content. So, omega-3 fatty acids are really beneficial for human health. It's also a really nice fish to look at, which also attracts consumers to buy the fish. But also, next to that, the fish is really adapting quite well to different kinds of farming situations. It grows really fast (and) has really low feeding conversion ratios, which is basically how efficient the fish is in converting aquafeed into body mass. Really, this fish has, really, a lot of potential as a high-value product for consumers.


Tom:            The other one that you work with is the African sharptooth catfish. Why this species? What distinguishes it from other fish?


Maud:           African catfish are really special fish, in my opinion. They look really funny compared to a lot of different fish species, which makes it a little bit less attractive for consumers.


Tom:            What do they look like?


Maud:           They're quite long. They have a really special head, with nostrils like barbels, but what makes the fish special is that it can be formed in high stocking densities, which is also needed to produce a fish. You can produce a lot of fish just the same for you, and also, the fish are actually air-breathers. They have a special organ that — they can take oxygen from the air. If the water quality is not that good, then you can still farm (this) species, and they grow so fast. If you really need a lot of protein, then that is really the species that we should focus on, I think.


Tom:            Maud, if you had a megaphone that could carry your voice to the entire planet, what misunderstandings and misinformation about the aquaculture industry would you want to correct and address?


Maud:           I think a lot of people have a negative view on agriculture as seeing fish in tanks. But it basically, it’s really, in my opinion, really a very sustainable sector, because it can produce a lot of protein really fast, because fish are cold-blooded animals, so they really don’t need energy for maintenance, and they grow really fast as compared to other terrestrial animals. Basically, already, the sector has, already, a sustainable advantage over terrestrial animals. And really, I think people should realize that fish are, I think, the protein of the future.


Tom:            In addition to your own work, what research now happening at the Alltech Coppens Aqua Center in the Netherlands would you rate as the most exciting? What gets you up in the morning?


Maud:           Every trial, I think, is very interesting. What we do at our research center, one of the main (projects) that interests me the most, is we recently developed a new research trial system, which — to look at African catfish. We're currently doing a trial there to really set the requirements in protein or fat levels for African catfish, as that species is not — the aquifers are not developed as of yet as, for example, within rainbow trout or salmon. It's really exciting to actually find new research and to investigate all those different topics on the efficiencies of catfish, and now, (we) can actually utilize and apply the research that we do immediately within our feed formulating. I really (have) already helped customers with improving our feeds.


Tom:            Let's say we've been listened to by somebody out there who's a marine biology major, and they're trying to figure out where to go with that. What track should they follow in the industry? What opportunities do you know (of) that are now open and available in aquaculture?


Maud:           I think one of the main things, of course — what we're talking about today — is getting the aquaculture industry to a more sustainable image. I would say we really need, with the whole agriculture sector, to have certification metrics that are standardized, and that's, I think, what we really need in the future. At the moment, all the feed companies are a little bit doing something on their own, and to get that standardized, I think, is still (the) way to go, and that will be very interesting, I think, for someone to be looking into.


Tom:            All right, that's Maud Valkenaars, a nutritional researcher in the quality, research and nutrition department at Alltech Coppens. Thank you for joining us.


Maud:           Thank you.


Tom:            I'm Tom Martin for the Alltech Ag Future podcast series. Thank you for joining us. Be sure to subscribe to Ag Future wherever you listen to podcasts.