January 29, 2021


USDA awards US$496,000 to US university researchers to support innovations in sustainable aquaculture



Two faculty members from the University of California Santa Cruz's (UCSC) Environmental Studies Department  have been awarded a US$496,000 grant from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to support innovations in sustainable aquaculture.


Pallab Sarker, an associate research professor and sustainable aquaculture and fish nutrition expert, and Anne Kapuscinski, a sustainability science and policy expert from UCSC's Environmental Studies Department, are the principal investigators in the efforts to develop a more ocean-friendly feed formula for farm-raised rainbow trout.


The team is looking for ways to disassociate aquaculture feeds from ocean food webs by developing new feed formulations that do not rely on ingredients from wild fish. They aim to use proteins and oils derived from a combination of marine microalgae.


Sarker and Kapuscinski had their breakthrough in November by developing the first fully fish-free feed formula for farmed tilapia and are hoping to replicate their success with rainbow trout to demonstrate across-the-board gains in sustainability, fish growth, economic viability and nutritional value for human consumers.


The experiment - that is aimed at finding the right combination of microalgae species that could potentially match the nutritional value of fish-based ingredients for the needs of rainbow trout - is important since trout and their relatives, salmon, are some of aquaculture's largest consumers of fishmeal and fish oil.


"We know it will be harder to achieve a cost-viable diet that has no fish ingredients than it was for tilapia," said Kapuscinski. "We won the grant because we have promising ideas with microalgae to make a big advance. Even if we don't achieve a fully fish-free diet for farmed trout, achieving a further reduction in the use of fishmeal and fish oil would be a big accomplishment. And that could serve as a model for salmon farming too."


The USDA funding will be added to the UCSC team's previous award of US$120,000 from California Sea Grant. These pooled grants will allow Sarker and Kapuscinski to expand the scope and timeline of their experiments.


Sarker said he is excited that the new funding will allow him to test out a new microalgal species that is now being produced commercially for use in omega-3 dietary supplements. The team plans to utilise protein-rich algal biomass leftover for feed production after omega-3 oils are extracted.


 - UC Santa Cruz Newscentre