01 May 2019
The Other Side of the Feed Pellet – How Much Land & Water Does it Take to Grow Non-Fishmeal Protein?
Written by Zach Stein

In the world of Shrimp Farming Innovations, when it comes to feed, pretty much all of the talk is about reducing or eliminating fishmeal in it. Can we use an alternative protein with the same or even better impacts than fishmeal? Can we reduce its use and replace it with other vegetarian ingredients?

The problem stems from the strange place aquaculture can find itself when it takes more lbs of fish caught in the wild and ground up to feed to other fish that we want to eat like salmon.

We were recently at a conference and this question came – is more vegetarian feed always more sustainable? Let’s explore it in this post.

Reducing Fishmeal in Aquaculture Feed

In the two major fed aquaculture species – salmon and shrimp – feed companies have been striving to reduce the amount of fishmeal used in the feed. Salmon has successfully brought down their fishin, fish out ratio from 25:1 back in the 1980’s to pretty close to 1:1 today – a pretty impressive feet. Shrimp too has replaced much of the fishmeal in pelletized feed with other alternatives such as corn and soy.

This makes sense both from a PR and a financial perspective. The farmed salmon industry took a lot of heat in the 80’s and 90’s because of the fish in, fish out ratio. Wild salmon advocates used this to their advantage. And they were correct in many ways and it pushed the farmed industry to be better. It also pushed feed companies to invest in researching ways to reduce fishmeal and improve FCR in their animals, leading to very significant results. Wheat and Soy are much cheaper per ton than high quality fishmeal.  

Protein Replacements

Right now, a shrimp pellet is still about 30% fishmeal and there are many companies that are working to reduce this. From black soldier flies, to crickets, to grasshoppers, to single cell proteins, to farm raised algae, all of these can help knock down that fish in, fish out ratio in feed.

Additionally some of these feed additives have the capacity to carry other helpful ingredients into the feed that can act as vaccines for the animals or generally help prevent mortalities.

Is a Vegetarian Feed Truly the Most Sustainable?

But it seems like the industry is on a quest to replace fishmeal entirely, at least the innovation in the industry seems bent on doing so. But we ask, is the environmental impact of shrimp feed more complicated than that?

How much land does it take to grow all of that soy. How much fresh water is used. Are we at a point or will we be soon where fresh water efficiency is actually more pressing than preserving feeder fish?

We don’t know, but in thinking about the ecological sustainability of the farmed shrimp industry we believe it is important that the question be raised.  


So is vegetarian a more sustainable feed? Probably, but it seems like less of a given than we had previously thought. If there is research out there on this question, please send it our way!