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The Trendy Fish Diet We Can Get Behind

McFarland Springs trout served at Fish. Credit: Annie Reisewitz
McFarland Springs trout served at Fish. Credit: Annie Reisewitz

Everyone wants to eat healthy. Some of us try cutting carbs while others cut out sugar or go vegan. Often, we find these diets hard to sustain without the proper preparation, research and commitment to make sure we are actually eating healthy. Now, imagine trying to create a new diet for farm-raised fish. Can fish go vegan? Can they get the same nutrients they need to thrive without fishmeal and fish oil?

This is something that researchers, scientists, and fish nutritionists have been trying to figure out for some time. Great strides and progress have been made over the years, and opportunities like the F3 (Fish-Free Feed) Challenge are helping bring this innovation to our dinner table on a larger scale.

What’s the rush? As the world population continues to increase, so does our nutritional needs and the need to double our food supply in order to keep pace. And, we all want to see this done in a sustainable way.

Enter the contestants of the F3 Challenge. Seven teams from around the world are competing to see if they can be the first to reach 100,000 metric tons (mT) of seafood-free feed sales that use innovative formulations of proteins and lipids by the challenge end date—Sept. 15, 2017.

The only U.S. team competing in this challenge is made up of four companies: farm-raised fish supplier TwoXSea, family-owned feed manufacturer Star Milling Co., biotech company AllTech, and algae-based food company TerraVia.

TwoXSea, founded in 2009, farms 100% vegetarian feed McFarland Springs trout. They say that part of their mission is to alter the way seafood is farmed and educate consumers on the importance of our oceans and the food we harvest from it. They have been experimenting with different types of feed over the years ranging from black fly larvae to barley proteins and now they are focused on the possibilities of an algae-based feed that contains the necessary omega-3 fatty acids for fish.

Taking the sustainability even further, TwoxSea also source local ingredients for their trout feed, such as pistachios that are rejected for sale because they don’t meet aesthetic standards, such as being off color or broken. The goal is to have an arsenal of regionally produced proteins, so that if one commodity spikes, they can just switch over to a different one.

TwoXSea has been working with Star Milling Co. over the last several years to help develop an innovative TwoXSea Trout diet that was non-fish, non-animal protein or oil based.

“This was accomplished in large part due to the flexibility that small companies have, the decades of experience of the Star Milling team, and the belief in what TwoXSea wanted to accomplish,” says Iva Gaglione of Star Milling Co.

When TwoXSea first started using vegetarian fish food diet, it was a lot more expensive than using the standard ingredients of fish oil and fishmeal. Then it was about $1.75 per pound to create a vegetarian diet and 60-80 cents a pound for the standard fishmeal. Today, those numbers are closing as fishmeal and fish oil prices are on the rise due to global fluctuations in forage fish abundance.

And yet, a lot of aquaculture facilities and fish farmers still rely on fishmeal and fish oil to feed their fish. Some argue that it is necessary for the health of the fish, but the innovators in the F3 competition are proving otherwise. The F3 challenge recognizes that innovation in the global aquafeed industry can help take pressure off wild fish populations, especially as the need for more fish increases in the coming decades.

As one of the smaller team of companies competing, TwoXSea doesn’t expect to win the competition.  For them it is about the bigger picture, according to TwoXSea co-owner Kenny Belov. They have been raising and selling 100% vegetarian-raised trout to supply hundreds of San Francisco Bay Area restaurants for the past eight years to promote sustainability in our food supply.

“What the F3 challenge is able to do is to bring this work to the global stage, bring huge companies that farm massive amounts of fish to the table together and discuss how we can all move forward,” says Belov.

The key takeaway for TwoXSea is that the fish-free feed contest is starting a dialogue to discuss and discover how we can move forward in creating truly sustainable aquaculture that will help feed our growing populations, take pressure off our fisheries and protect the ocean.

Meanwhile, F3 team member Star Milling Co. is moving forward to develop other fish species diets that are fishmeal- and fish-oil free that still maintain good feed conversions and overall health for the farmed fish.

This is Part I of a seven-part series about the contestants competing for the $200,000 F3 prize. Learn more about the F3 challenge and its participants. To see the prize leader and cast your vote on the winner, visit: https://goo.gl/Tp2qlg.

Written By: Sarah Martin and Annie Reisewitz