Knowledge for better food systems

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What do our farmed fish eat? What do we know about it?

July 12, 2014
Hugh Coulson

Half the world's seafood now comes from aquaculture; as such we should be aware of the realities behind what our farmed fish are fed. Carnivorous marine fin fish such as salmon and sea bass as well as intensively farmed prawns are fed on diets containing fish meal. This is a protein-rich source derived from capturing wild fish which are then processed into feeds. This resource is becoming increasingly scarce and more expensive. To continue putting fish on our plates at a reasonable price, aquafeed manufacturers develop diets based on ever cheaper and readily available sources of protein-rich ingredients. These are often of vegetable origin, such as soybean and wheat gluten meal. Such ingredients are often considered more sustainable compared to those sourced from the oceans, and when blended with other ingredients can produce healthy, tasty fish. However some studies using more comprehensive sustainability assessments, suggest that fishmeal substitutes are not without their problems. One of several examples is outlined by Pelletier (2009) and studies the energy costs associated with wheat gluten extraction. Sources of sustainable protein such as animal by-products are readily available and could be used in fish feeds yet certain legislation restricts their use in the EU.  On the flipside to this the EU prohibits us eating GM vegetable proteins yet these can be freely fed to animals, which then enter the human food chain. Do consumers know what the issues are?  Are they   consumers prepared to accept certain feed ingredients?  Or would they rather not know?

As it stands, there is little published research on consumer perceptions concerning what fish are fed.  What they know about seafood and what they want retailers to supply may be very different from what retailers are actually supplying. It is the aim of this study to find out what consumers are thinking and then cross reference the information from the different contributors to see if consumers' interests are actually being looked after by the retail sector

The questions posed in the surveys below are set to stimulate conversation on these little discussed yet arguably vitally important issues in a bid to unpick some the complexities surrounding them.

Please - if you’re either an individual consumer who buys fish, or if you’re a buyer for a retailer,  I’d be very grateful if you’d take the time to complete this short survey.. Many thanks.

IF YOU ARE A CONSUMER, I would like to hear the your thoughts on some of the matters outlined above and see how your understanding matches up to the decision processes disclosed buy supermarket buyers.  Please follow this link.


If you would like your organisation to remain anonymous please state so.

If anyone wishes to add further thoughts to some of the issues please click on this link.

The survey data will be used to inform the conclusions of my thesis. A copy of the final report will be posted on the blog later in the year. For further correspondence please email HUGH COULSON. All feedback will be most gratefully received, thank you.

About Hugh

Hugh Coulson is an M.Sc. student at the Institute of Aquaculture, University of Stirling and has 12 years experience in the fine food industry, four years in fisheries and 3 years filming wildlife documentaries for the BBC.

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