Tools for Improving Raw Material Efficiency and Reducing Emissions in Aquaculture

In Brief

  • Aquatic food production is expected to increase 15% by 2030.
  • To be sustainable, the industry must make more efficient use of raw materials and reduce emissions.
  • Strategies and products exist to help producers improve performance and mitigate environmental impacts.

By 2030, aquatic food production is forecast to increase by a further 15 percent, mainly by intensifying and expanding sustainable aquaculture production. To be sustainable, aquaculture must become more efficient, produce more with less and reduce its environmental footprint. Two keys to this sustainability are making more efficient use of raw materials and reducing environmental emissions.

Making more efficient use of raw materials

The environmental footprint of farmed seafood protein is mainly driven by the feed and raw materials. The industry has gradually replaced a large proportion of fish meal with soy protein and other vegetable protein meals, and shown flexibility of marine raw material sourcing with a move towards trimmings meals, and today, the aquaculture industry is searching for alternative or novel protein sources to allow greater flexibility in feed formulation. Soy is an indispensable source of digestible protein for humans and animals and as such its growth in demand has increased tenfold in the last 50 years. Part of that growth came from increases of crop and land productivity, but also from converting natural habitats like the Cerrado, the Amazon, the Chaco and even the Great Plains in US to soy production. That has serious environmental impacts on climate, water cycles, greenhouse gas emissions, soil health and biodiversity. Consumers and investors are putting pressure on the food value chain and more specifically the feed and animal production value chains to improve sustainability and reduce the use of deforestation soy.

To mitigate the demand for soy, the feed industry is working on alternative solutions, including greater use of local feed raw materials, upgrading and use of by-products from the food and grain crushing industries and investing in alternative protein technologies such as single cell proteins and insect meal, as well as upgraded vegetable proteins. A key technology that can also increase the efficiency of raw materials is the use of enzymes in feed formulation. Feed enzymes complement the animals' own digestive enzymes to ensure more of the diet is utilized. Enzyme use increases the digestibility of a variety of feed ingredients, reducing the reliance on fishmeal by improving the digestibility of plant-based feed ingredients and enabling greater flexibility in feed formulations. In addition, increased digestibility of the plant raw materials means that the environmental impact of aquaculture is also reduced, particularly with respect to phosphorus and nitrogen emissions.

Enzyme use increases the digestibility of feed ingredients, reducing the reliance on fishmeal by improving the digestibility of plant-based feed ingredients and enabling greater flexibility in feed formulations.

Reducing environmental emissions

Inland aquaculture represents more than 50% of total production, and farming in earthen ponds remains the most important method, dominated by carp, tilapia, catfish and shrimp. The expansion of land-based aquaculture has resulted in substantial environmental challenges affecting water, soil, biodiversity and climate. Many countries - notably China, the largest inland-aquaculture producer - have restricted the use of land and public waters for this purpose, which constrains expansion. At the same time global demand for salmon pushes marine production towards inland recirculating systems (RAS), offshore and deep sea closed systems due to environmental and health challenges. Regulators, water quality policies and health challenges are also pushing the warm water species sector to move into RAS. Authorities protect against eutrophication and acidification of water bodies by closely monitoring and regulating environmental emissions, such as phosphorus and nitrogen. With a growth in aquaculture production, good water management is crucial to enable sustainable growth in the next decades.

In particular, management of phosphorus and nitrogen emissions is crucial to ensure the industry can grow sustainably. Phosphorus is a finite natural resource, and it is indispensable for agriculture and aquaculture production. It is an essential macro-mineral which has many important functions in the fish and shrimp body. The concentration of inorganic phosphorus in water is very low and in intensive aquaculture it must be supplemented in feeds to meet the optimum requirements for growth and well-being of the animal. Most of the phosphate in aqua feed is bound in a form inaccessible to the animals (phytate-P) and fishmeal alternatives, such as plant-based ingredients have high inclusion levels of phytate-P. This means that there is a potential for phosphorous discharge to the environment, leading to freshwater eutrophication and occurrence of undesirable off-flavors in the fillet.

Management of phosphorus and nitrogen emissions is crucial to ensure the aquaculture industry can grow sustainably.

When feed is eaten by fish and shrimp it is metabolized into energy and nutrients used for growth and survival. As with all animals, there is waste produced by these normal metabolic processes and ammonia is the principal nitrogenous waste product produced by fish and shrimp from protein metabolism. Ammonia concentrations in the water increase as feed input increases in response to greater fish production, and the ammonia toxicity increases as temperature and pH increase. It is important to use feed with optimised protein levels, and it is crucial to improve the digestibility of the protein to reduce ammonia emissions. Appropriate measures, such as more precise feed formulations with containing lower amounts, but more digestible protein and the use of feed enzymes, such as protease, can result in a considerable decrease in the emissions of nitrogen compounds into water systems in aquaculture.

How dsm-firmenich helps producers improve performance and sustainability

At dsm-firmenich, we are committed to delivering innovative, science-based solutions that drive sustainable aquaculture production.

Increasing efficiency of raw materials

Thanks to the 20-year alliance between dsm-firmenich and Novozymes, we enable the animal industry to further optimize nutrition and ensure we can achieve more with less. Our phytase RONOZYME® HiPhos can take feed phytase to the next level. Less inorganic phosphorous needs to be added to the diet, resulting in substantial savings on feed costs. The reduction of the amount of finite rock phosphate used in diets leads to a decrease in phosphorus excretion to the environment and less eutrophication of freshwaters. The supplementation of diets with HiPhorius™ can increase digestibility of phosphorus up to 19%, 35% and 22% in seabass, tilapia and rainbow trout respectively, when compared to diets including inorganic phosphorus.

Our RONOZYME® ProAct is dsm-firmenich best-in-class feed protease which increases protein digestion across a range of feed ingredients, thereby reducing feed costs. RONOZYME® ProAct optimizes amino acids digestion, reduces costs, mitigates effects of feed protein variability, reduces adverse effects of anti-nutritional factors as well as improves gastrointestinal functionality. RONOZYME® ProAct can increase protein digestibility in tilapia up to 10%. When compared to shrimp diets with reference levels of crude protein or fish meal standard inclusion levels, the use of RONOZYME® ProAct can maintain animal performance when either crude protein or fish meal content is decreased.

Supporting emissions reduction

Intensive pond aquaculture produces large amounts of organic waste, most of which settles at the pond bottom, negatively affecting water quality, health and growth performance. The oxidation of this organic material depletes oxygen levels and forms toxic metabolites such as hydrogen sulfide and nitrogen wastes. Probiotics can help in improving water quality and maximize survival and growth, reducing at the same time the need for lengthy and often expensive manual organic sediment removal between production cycles. Our AquaStar® is the most complete aquaculture probiotics range on the market as bioremediation tools to improve pond management and increase productivity. The multi-species approach builds on synergies and complementary modes of action between different bacterial species, and ensures users are provided with maximum benefits. AquaStar® drives enzymatic breakdown of organic matter, reduces N-metabolites and toxic hydrogen sulfide. Thanks to its quorum quenching properties, AquaStar® is ideal for pathogen and biofilm control. Field trials in shrimp have demonstrated that AquaStar® can reduce ammonia in the water column by 60% and nitrite by 25%, improving survival by 18%.

Digestibility of phytate-P can be improved by using enzyme technology, such as phytase, to break down phytic acid, providing economic and environmental benefits for both the feed producers and farmers. For example, our phytase HiPhorius™ improves phosphorus digestibility and can significantly reduce phosphorus emission in the water by up to 83% in sea bream, 80% in tilapia and 77% in sea bass.

Published on

21 March 2023


  • Aquaculture
  • Reducing Emissions
  • Sustainability

About the Authors

Fabio Cervellione - Director of Nutrition & Health Solution Aqua Global at G.O. Johnsen AS

Fabio is a Director of Nutrition & Health Solution Aqua Global at G.O. Johnsen AS, which markets dsm-firmenich Nutritional Products.

He holds a veterinary degree obtained at the University of Milan, MSc in Aquatic Veterinary Studies at Stirling University, and a PhD in veterinary medicine at Ghent University.

Fabio has more than 15 years of experience in the aquaculture industry, through different local and global roles in technical service, sales, R&D, and marketing.

Louise Buttle - Key Accounts Aqua Global, Animal Nutrition & Health at dsm-firmenich

Louise holds a PhD obtained at the University of Hull, UK. She has over two decades of industry experience in aquaculture, much of this time with EWOS and Cargill in the salmon farming countries; Scotland, Chile, and Norway. Louise held various positions in R&D, product development, innovation, and sustainability. She joined dsm-firmenich in May 2019 and is committed to delivering solutions supporting the further development of sustainable aquaculture.


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