Enter the F3 Challenge. The first challenge, in 2015, asked contestants to create a fish-free fish feed for the aquaculture industry. Guangdong Evergreen Feed Industry Company, a Chinese feed business, won more than $200,000 for its protein mix of soybean, rapeseed, and peanut meal. In 2019, the second competition, which called for the creation of a fish-free fish oil substitute, saw four teams compete with various formulations for a $200,000 prize. Veramaris, a joint venture between two Dutch companies, DSM and Evonik, won with its oil made from algae—which has twice the omega-3s of fish oil. Combined, the four contestants sold approximately 850,000 kilograms of fish-free oil. That saved the equivalent of more than two billion wild fish, the “largest amount of fish ever saved through a contest,” the organizers say.
For whatever reason, black soldier fly—which is further along in development—wasn’t among the formulations entered in the competition. “Black soldier fly is one of these big targets,” Fitzsimmons explains. “I mean, there must be 50 different companies around the world that are moving very, very rapidly into commercial production in scaling up black soldier fly.” Other companies are looking at different grubs (such as housefly, mealworm, and silkworm), beetles, crickets, and other insects. “Ecologically, I think this is fantastic,” Fitzsimmons says. He remains agnostic about what the best solutions might be, as long as they’re sustainable and become available quickly.
Fitzsimmons points to Norway, which has the world’s largest salmon-farming industry. Over the last two or three years, roughly a quarter of Norwegian producers have switched from conventional fish oil to algae-based oils; forage fish get their omega-3s from algae in the first place. Getting an industry that large to change that quickly is significant, Fitzsimmons says. And he suspects it’s just the start: “We see a confluence of economics, environmental interest, sustainability, interest from consumers, and economies of scale as the companies rapidly increase their production.”
Algae oil, insect meal, soy, camelina (an oilseed crop), and hydrolyzed feather meal from the poultry industry will all be more sustainable than continuing to remove forage fish from the environment, Fitzsimmons explains, and they could all play a part in aquaculture’s future. But there’s no silver bullet. “There’s no one perfect algae oil that’s going to replace fish,” he says, “and there’s not any single protein source that’s going to replace fish meal.” He suspects solutions will come from multiple sources.
Consider the vegan diet, Fitzsimmons says. If people are used to eating steak, they won’t find a single plant that will replace steak’s nutritional makeup. In order to achieve the proper nutritional balance, they have to consume a variety of things. Farmed fish don’t require fish meal or fish oil—they require the nutrients those ingredients happen to contain. As long as they get—and can process—the proteins, amino acids, fats, vitamins, and minerals they need to thrive, it doesn’t really matter where they come from.