AQUAMAX – Creating a "vegetarian" diet for fish to aid sustainable aquaculture
Fish are a vital component of the human diet. As well as providing a crucial source of protein, the health benefits of eating fish, especially oily fish, are well documented.
The omega-3 fatty acids they contain can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease,
and they provide building blocks for the human eye and nervous system.
Aquaculture – farmed fish – is contributing to meet world demand, but this too faces serious constraints. Fish meal and fish oil are major ingredients in the feeds used in aquaculture. At the same time, they constitute major limiting factors for the promising growth of the sector since there is a concern as to whether there is sufficient fishmeal and fish oil to meet the increasing demand of aquaculture and, therefore, whether this growth will be limited by their availability.
To compound the problem, fish meal and fish oil can be sources of contaminants such as organic pollutants (PCB's), dioxins and methylmercury.
It was to address this problem that project AQUAMAX was established in 2006, funded by the EU within the 6th Framework Programme.
Underlining the global importance of the topic, the project brought together 32 partners not only from within Europe but also from China and India.
The task: to come up with new, efficient, safe and sustainable feeds for aquaculture that would reduce the need for fish oil and fish meal and minimise the threat from pollutants, without impairing the quality and health of the farmed fish. In addition, it was important not to compromise the organoleptic and nutritional benefits or safety of the final product when consumed as part of the human diet. The project has taken a whole chain approach, including feeds and fish production and safety, potential health benefits and consumers perception of farmed fish.
The four-year project involved several private companies from the aquaculture sector, such as Selonda Aquaculture SA, Viviers de France and the Federation of European Aquaculture Producers, working alongside a number of universities and public research institutes.
As a result of this unprecedented international and interdisciplinary collaboration, the AQUAMAX participants achieved a major breakthrough, developing new aquaculture feeds in which both fish oil and fish meal were largely replaced by alternative ingredients, mainly derived from terrestrial plants.
Tested with a range of fish including salmon, rainbow trout, sea bream and carp, the new AQUAMAX diets were shown to have no compromising impact on fish health and development, while the fish showed only trace levels of pollutants, well below EU maximum permitted levels. The project has also developed tools for screening toxic compounds and improved our understanding of the action of key toxicants that can be found in fish (farmed or wild).
Tests on the health benefits and safety to humans of the new fish also showed extremely positive results, as did perception tests designed to assess the acceptability of "AQUAMAX fish" to consumers. One of the highlights of the project was the pioneering long term study on pregnant women (in Europe and China) consuming fish fed with Aquamax feeds that has released promising preliminary results on both mothers and their "Aquamax" babies. Further testing and validation will of course be required. By confirming the feasibility of innovative "vegetarian" regimes for carnivorous fish, the AQUAMAX project has taken a major step towards providing the European feed manufactures with the flexibility required to develop safe aquaculture feeds tailored to the needs of the fish and the consumer, while coping efficiently with the volatility of feedstuffs in the global markets.