Can insect feed replace fishmeal?

February 21, 2022

The aquaculture sector heavily relies on catching wild fish to feed farmed fish – an inefficiency that we can turn around with alternative feeds, including insect feed.

Aquaculture is the world’s fastest-growing food production sector. An alternative to catching wild fish, it accounts for over 50% of all fish supply. FAO projects it will provide 60% of the world’s fish by 2030.

The main species farmed in the UK and the EU, including Atlantic salmon, rainbow trout, or the common carp, are carnivorous or omnivorous. This means that the inclusion of animal protein in their diet is necessary. That is where fishmeal comes in.

What is fishmeal?

Fishmeal is obtained by catching wild fish. These include small ‘forage’ fish such as anchovy, sardine, herring, mackerel, and krill. This creates the absurdity of ‘catching fish to feed fish’. The fish caught for the production of fishmeal and fish oil (FMFO) represent 20% of all wild-caught fish.

Is fishmeal sustainable?

Published in 2019 by CIWF and the Changing Markets Foundation, the Under the Seas Run Dry report highlights that Earth cannot sustain the need for fishmeal. The practice of ‘catching fish to feed fish’ is driving overfishing and threatening food security. 

Fishmeal landings can have knock-on surrounding ecosystems, including marine mammals and birds. We cannot afford to lose more biodiversity within our waters – not if we don’t want to make climate change any worse.

The species that fisheries target are already under immense pressure as a result of extreme weather events and climate change, which affect migration and reproduction patterns. The Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force suggests that the majority of forage fish populations (75% of the stock) should stay untouched to safeguard the health of the ecosystem.

Even though they are considered ‘low-grade’, around 90% of fish used for fishmeal are fit for human consumption. But eating them directly would be much more sustainable than feeding them to fish – especially for some of the vulnerable communities in which they are caught.

Is insect feed more sustainable than fishmeal?

Compared to fishmeal, insects use a fraction of resources to deliver a similar amount of protein.

Insects are far from land-hungry – they are at their happiest in larger groups. This is especially true for the black soldier fly larvae, which can be farmed in densely populated systems.

Emissions associated with insect feed production are also much lower than conventional feeds. In fact, insects can reduce emissions by feeding on food waste that would otherwise go to landfill. They aren’t picky – the black soldier fly can grow 5,000 times their initial body mass while feeding on fruit and vegetable waste, or even manure.

The black soldier fly larvae

Can we use insect feed in aquaculture?

In line with current EU legislation, we can use seven insect species for feed in aquaculture:

  • Black soldier fly (Hermetia illucens)
  • Mealworm or yellow mealworm (Tenebrio molitor), 
  • Lesser mealworm or litter beetle (Alphitobius diaperinus), 
  • House cricket (Acheta domesticus), 
  • Tropical house cricket or banded cricket (Gryllodes sigillatus)
  • Housefly (Musca domestica)
  • Jamaican field cricket (Gryllus assimilis)

Some industry giants are already betting on insects, with Skretting allocating $2 million toward the development of alternative feed ingredients.

Is insect feed as nutritious as fishmeal?

Studies and trials around feeding insect feed have shown that it is highly digestible and has many nutritional benefits.

Research by AB Agri and FERA has demonstrated that insect meal is comparable with fish meal in terms of its amino acid content. When dried, insects contain up to 50% of high-quality protein as well as necessary vitamins, fats, and amino acids. They are also rich in antimicrobial, medium-chain fatty acids, depending on species, which have proven gut health benefits.

So you want to know more about insect feed for aquaculture?

At Better Origin, we have perfected the science of growing insects for feed – and we have put it to use in collaboration with farmers and supermarkets.

If you think insect protein could help your business, you can read more about our insect farm or reach out to us for a free assessment.