Fish farms seek new feed to fend off 'peak salmon' problem

Growing consumer demand for seafood is driving change in the diet of farmed salmon.

Demand for salmon drives technological, feeding changes

2014 marks the first year consumers will be more likely to eat farmed over wild salmon. (Associated Press)

With increasing demand and flatlining production, technological solutions are needed to meet the growing market for seafood.

More and more fish sold for human consumption is farmed, and the UN has said 2014 will be the first year the consumption of farmed fish overtakes that of wild fish. 

That reality is shaping the salmon industry in unique ways. But with demand rising five to 10 per cent annually over the past few years, traditional salmon production is hitting its limit. 

A main issue is the growing demand and
 limited availability of fish oil and fish meal, ingredients needed to manufacture the food pellets fed to farmed salmon.

Stewart Hawthorn is a board member of the B.C. Salmon Farmer's Association. (Grieg Seafood)
Stewart Hawthorn is a a board member of the B.C. Salmon Farmer's Association, he said the industry is responding by changing what they feed their farmed fish. With rising fish oil prices and smaller hauls of anchovy and sardines, Hawthorn said they are also looking at algae, yeasts and other organisms to produce the Omega-3 fatty acids in the diet of the farmed fish.  

"We have been changing the diet of our farm raised salmon from being predominantly fish to being to a large extent vegetable based and land animal protein to replace the fish-meal components."

Soybean-based feed is also a possibility, though the naturally carnivorous fish are used to feeding on herring and krill in the wild.

Other challenge with these changes are consumer acceptance, alongside regulatory and environmental hurdles. 

If this balance of technological and regulatory challenges isn't met, London's Financial Times has labelled the impending result 'peak salmon.' It's a term borrowed from the notion of 'peak oil,' where production will one day top out and begin a decline.  

"It's not just about peak salmon ... it's about peak food," Hawthorn said. "The world needs to find ways to produce more food, seafood in particular. Especially as there are more people in the world but people are getting wealthier and more people can afford to buy seafood."

In a related development on Tuesday, two British Columbia conservation groups said they have asked the federal auditor general to examine Ottawa's response to a $26-million public inquiry into the collapse of West Coast salmon stocks.

The Watershed Watch Salmon Society and SOS Marine Conservation Foundation have filed an environmental petition with the federal auditor alleging that in the 16 months since the report came out, the government has failed to act on the recommendations. The groups want the auditor general to compel the federal fisheries minister to reply to questions about salmon preservation in writing.

With files from The Canadian Press