St. Louis, MO, September 24, 2013—Based on his 42 years of experience in domestic and international fisheries and aquaculture, Michael C. Cremer, Ph.D., Senior Advisor to the International Aquaculture Program at United States Soybean Export Council (USSEC), is enthusiastic about aquaculture’s potential and the role of soy-fed farmed fish.
The basis of the USSEC International Aquaculture Program, he says, is environmental friendliness, food safety and sustainability. “We work with fish producers and feed manufacturers to develop sustainable and safe production technologies and soy-based feeds. Right now, soy is the only volume produced alternative ingredient that will allow the industry to meet the demand for seafood. There aren’t any other protein sources produced in large enough volume to meet industry needs. Our primary objective has been to develop safe, sustainable, soy-based feeds as the aquaculture industry grows because there is not enough fish meal available to supply that need.”
Aquaculture Industry Today
Cremer notes that the aquaculture industry is working hard to produce fish sustainably. “Most of the oceans have been pretty well fished out. All of the major ocean capture fisheries around the world are at, or have surpassed, their sustainable yields. There just isn’t going to be any more ocean capture fish. The volume cannot increase. The only way we’re going to be able to meet seafood demand in the world is to do it through aquaculture.”
Seafood Availability in the Future
“Projections are that by 2030, seafood demand will more than double in the world, and aquaculture will double production from 60 million to 120-125 million metric tons by then,” Cremer says. “That could be difficult, but even if the industry does move at that pace, it is still going to be substantially below the projected demand. It is going to have to be a very significant growth industry. In the future people are going to see price increases and continued shortages of seafood because even as fast as the global aquaculture industry has grown, being able to keep up with demand when there’s no more source from the ocean is going to be difficult. People need to understand that the only way we’re going to be able to get seafood in the future is through aquaculture. There are sustainable ocean capture fisheries out there but they can’t produce any more than they are producing right now. In essence, aquaculture is the future for seafood supply.”
Trends in Aquaculture Feed
“The ocean aquaculture sector basically got established by feeding fish to fish—and that has been one of the environmental backlashes. It also carried an inherent risk, in that you got a lot of disease transfer doing that. We have been working with the industries, mostly in Asia where this continues to be a factor, to move that industry away from fresh fish to high-quality manufactured feeds made primarily with plant proteins rather than animal proteins. To do that, you have to have a higher quality plant protein product. We have had to move to the high protein concentrates like soy protein concentrate, to be able to fill that void because of the nutrient density requirements of the feed,” Cremer says.
Common Misconceptions about Aquaculture
Regarding the quality of farmed fish, Cremer says, “Two of the really critical points are the healthfulness of aquaculture products, and the way they are cultured—whether they are raised sustainably so they don’t damage the environment. There is a great deal of misinformation about the quality of aquaculture products. The aquaculture industry has worked very hard to make sure there are sustainable feed ingredients with no contaminants. I would say that a lot of farmed fish may be more healthful than wild caught.”
“In the past most fish diets were largely fish meal-based, and there was a lot of negative press about what they were calling the fish in/fish out requirement for aquafeeds,” Cremer explains. “There was so much ocean capture fish that went to make fish meal that it wasn’t sustainable, or environmentally friendly. They were giving a lot of contaminants in that fish meal feed. Most of that fish meal has been taken out of aquaculture diets these days. Even for the really sensitive marine fish species like salmon and yellowtail, those industries don’t use more than 10 percent fish meal in their diets anymore. Part of that was because of the source of the fish meal. In some feeds, it was found that high levels of contaminants came up through the food chain. The desire was to eliminate those diets, and to make sure there weren’t any contaminants in the feed, and that they were sustainably sourcing those ingredients. The industry has really made major changes in its approach.”
Looking for information about aquaculture? Dr. Cremer suggests, “Programs like the Global Aquaculture Alliance (www.gaalliance.org) are good sources of information. They are very oriented toward sustainability, and have a program for best aquaculture practices, and a certification program. That program will certify hatcheries, production facilities, feed manufacturing and processing plants. There are also European organizations that have similar certification processes. As purchasers move more toward requiring sustainable certification, the industry has become much more environmentally friendly and much more sustainable. They are producing a high-quality, safe product.”
Aquaculture Products for Consumers and Foodservice
Cremer offers this update on soy-fed farmed fish. “Most of the omnivorous freshwater species like tilapia, catfish and carp have been on all-plant protein diets for many years now. Soy is the primary protein source in those diets. The bigger concern for the future is ensuring that those fish have the correct long chain Omega 3 fatty acids that are important for human health. Traditionally, that has been supplied primarily by fish oil in the diets. Fish oil is in shorter supply than fish meal. There is a lot of work being done to look at alternative lipid regimes for diets for most of the cultured fish species. We use different types of fats in the diets during the growing periods when they are using it primarily for energy, and then reserve high-quality fish oils with the long chain Omega 3 fatty acids for finishing diets. That way, we can make sure the meat going to consumers has the levels of heart-healthy Omega 3 fatty acids that are so important for human health.”
Regarding food safety, Cremer suggests, “The point to remember is that eating aquaculture products is just as healthful as wild-caught fish and, in some cases, it’s probably better because higher-level carnivores caught in ocean are exposed to contaminants that are concentrated up the food chain. We have seen more of these contaminants concentrated in the wild fish population, and we take steps to make sure that doesn’t happen with cultured fish by eliminating them from the feed.”
Ultimately, it is the consumer who makes decisions about the flavor and quality of soy-fed farmed fish. As Cremer explains, “We have done a lot of work here in the U.S. with Virginia cobia farms in developing soy-based diets. When those fish reach market size, taste tests are conducted with chefs around the country to make sure the quality of that products meets the desires of chefs and consumers. We have had very good results on products tested both here in the U.S. and overseas with fish fed on soy-based ideas.”
For more information from USSEC about soy-fed farmed fish, visit the website at www.soyaqua.org.
About the U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC): The U.S. Soybean Export Council connects soybean producers with opportunities to improve human nutrition, livestock production and aquaculture. USSEC accomplishes its mission with a science-based technical foundation and a global network of partnerships, including soybean growers, exporters, agribusiness and agricultural organizations, researchers and government agencies. The U.S. Soybean Export Council operates internationally and works with aquaculture programs in different nations to help ensure success and profitability for industry producers.
About Michael C. Cremer, Ph.D., Senior Advisor for the International Aquaculture Program, U.S. Soybean Export Council: Dr. Cremer has 42 years of experience in domestic and international fisheries and aquaculture in the U.S., Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, Europe and Africa. Currently, he is Senior Advisor of the International Aquaculture Program for USSEC, leading international marketing and research activities of the U.S. soybean industry to increase demand and consumption of U.S. soy products by the global aquaculture industry. These programs focus on research, development and demonstration of feed-based aquaculture technologies and the use of soy products in aquafeeds for freshwater and marine fish and shrimp. USSEC currently operates aquaculture research and international marketing activities in China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, India, Turkey, Egypt, Greece, Spain, Mexico, Panama, Honduras, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela and the Caribbean. Dr. Cremer holds a Bachelor of Science in Marine Fisheries from Humboldt State University, a Master’s Degree in Aquaculture and a Ph.D. in Fisheries Economics from Auburn University.