“U.S. soy is reliably consistent and keeps feed quality stable. This is important for marine fish in particular, as they can very easily go off their feed,” says Lukas Manomaitis, USSEC Aquaculture Program Lead Technical Consultant in Southeast Asia.

U.S. soybean farmers understand better than anyone the importance of starting the growing season with top quality seeds. The same is true for growing marine fish – a consistent supply of quality “fingerlings” (juvenile fish) are needed to stock grow-out pens in order to ensure a successful harvest of market size fish.

“If we want to see industrial scale marine aquaculture, we need to see a large scale supply of quality fingerlings,” explains Manomaitis. “A hatchery needs to provide all the fingerlings for the farm for consistent quality instead of pulling fingerlings from several hatcheries, which has been a common practice. The most pressing needs are basic – mainly, the fish to stock the farm.”

In 2009, the International Soy in Aquaculture Program of the U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC) initiated a program to help marine fish hatcheries expand production in Southeast Asia in order to grow the marine aquaculture industry in that region. USSEC looks to increase U.S. soy rations in aquaculture feed throughout the world.

The program began with bringing groups of Southeast Asia hatchery operators to visit established hatcheries in China and Taiwan to get ideas on how to expand production. It evolved into identifying eight target hatcheries in main Southeast Asian nations – Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, Myanmar and Thailand – and working with them on specific issues that are limiting their production in terms of quality and quantity of fingerlings.

These issues centered on biosecurity and operations; basically, how to keep both brood stock and fingerlings healthy. Hatchery biosecurity is vitally important and focuses on preventing people from bringing in diseases by putting in foot baths, hand sanitizers, changing into boots and not cross-contaminating equipment from one tank to another. The program also took hatchery personnel to visit more advanced hatcheries in Australia and brought operations managers to Australia for a training course in best practices.

“Once we established the basics of biosecurity and operations, the next phase was to focus on fish genetics, with radio frequency identification (RFID) tags in brood stock in our target hatcheries to identify individual fish,” said Manomaitis. “We can now can take fin clips to test for genetic makeup, specifically looking for relatedness to prevent inbreeding. This also presents opportunities to create specific strains of fish, which grow faster or are more disease resistant, for example.”

Aquaculture program consultants took that genetic information from two hatcheries in Thailand and the Philippines to demonstrate how to prevent inbreeding. This information was expanded into general workshops in four nations to show the hatchery industry how to improve their approach to genetics.

“We feel that this program is a victory for marine aquaculture in the region, as we were able to learn what is happening in the industry,” says Manomaitis. “Now it’s up to the industry to take the lessons provided and use them to change their approach.”

As wild fisheries are collapsing in Southeast Asia, it’s imperative that the region moves into industrial scale aquaculture. Large-scale hatcheries will need to produce 20 million fingerlings a year, both high quantity and quality. Without quality fingerlings, farms could have high levels of mortality and disease, which discourages farmers from investing in quality feeds.

“As the aquaculture industry grows, this increases the requirement for quality, stable feed made with U.S. soy,” concludes Manomaitis.