Aquaculture is the fastest-growing sector of food production. Global fish consumption has nearly doubled in the last 40 years. The Ohio Soybean Council (OSC) partnered with Battelle and Kentucky State University to develop and evaluate a new technology that could revolutionize the modern aquaculture (“fish farming”) industry. The technology completely removes non-digestible carbohydrates (oligosaccharides) without compromising the amino acid composition, making it easier for fish to digest. Initial testing has shown that EnzoMeal™, an improved soybean meal, outperforms 100 percent fish meal diets.

“Ohio soybean farmers are excited to be able to meet an important need for aquaculture farmers,” said Nathan Eckel, chair of the OSC Research Committee. “This technology shows tremendous promise.”

A Rapidly Growing Market

In the present scenario, natural fish resources are stretched to the maximum utilization limit—wild fish capture has leveled off due to decreasing natural stocks. Consequently, effective and environmentally sustainable aquaculture offers a logical alternative to wild fish capture.

An impediment to widespread expansion of aquaculture is the identification of an effective and sustainable food source for fish. Traditionally, fish meal has been serving as the main source of dietary protein for farmed fish at a production level of 5 to 6 million metric tons with the global aquaculture industry utilizing 68 percent. Since fish meal contains wild fish and shrimp which are considered non-renewable natural resources, — fish farmers are gradually extending their interest in agriculture-based nutrients to supplement fish meal and to provide a sustainable source of nutrition at an affordable price.

Soybean meal offers an attractive alternative to fish meal diet as it is rich in protein content compared to other agricultural based meals. Due to the high content of available protein, essential fatty acids, unsaturated fats, and a favorable amino acid profile, soybean meal closely meets the dietary requirements of fish. However, its application in the diets of some fish species is restricted to 20 to 30 percent due to the dietary component that interfere with the digestion and absorption of nutrients.

Digestive systems particularly carnivorous fish are not accustomed to utilize plant ingredients such as soybean meal because it contains approximately 30 percent of indigestible carbohydrates, including non-starch polysaccharides, and several compounds or anti-nutritional factors that may disturb the digestive process in fish.

Commercially important fish such as salmon and largemouth bass having lower activity of the enzymes needed to break down plant proteins and carbohydrates, therefore high inclusion of soybean meal can cause intestinal inflammation and organ damage. The intestinal inflammation impedes the fish’s biological processes to break down proteins which fortify the accumulation of undigested nutrient load in excretion. These circumstances deteriorate the water quality, and complicate the health issues for the fish and other organisms sharing the habitat.

Further Trials Underway

Trials are underway and will verify the performance with salmon, largemouth bass and asian sea bass —three carnivorous fish that have particular issues with oligosaccharide-intensive crop-based meals. With these fish, demand is quickly outstripping supply, increasing the potential for aquaculture. The potential to expand the ability to farm these profitable fish with a diet that entails a lower cost than traditional fish meal is a great opportunity to meet growing global demand for food and employ a cost-effective and proven crop in addressing that demand.

Ultimately, EnzoMeal will replace 100 percent of fish meal in feed for farm-raised fish and shrimp.