Fish nutritionist Rick Barrows examines flax oil that will be infused into pellets for rainbow trout feed. Photo: Steve Ausmus USDA/ARS

Innovators sought for $100k fish oil challenge

A contest has been launched to innovate a fish oil alternative that doesn’t rely on wild-caught fish.

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The F3 Fish Oil Challenge will award a $100,000 prize to the company or team that makes and sells the most fish-free “fish oil” to aquaculture operations or feed manufacturers. The prize amount is expected to increase through additional crowdsource fundraising.

The F3 (Future of Fish Feed) team, a collaboration of scientists, environmentalists and industry leaders, is currently recruiting innovators to join the global race to help remove a bottleneck to growth in the aquaculture industry.

The University of Arizona, New England Aquarium, University of Massachusetts Boston, Synbiobeta, Anthropocene Institute and the World Bank are sponsoring the contest that aims to both support and streamline the aquaculture feed supply chain.

USDA fish physiologist Gibson Gaylord (foreground) collects blood from rainbow trout to measure plasma amino acid levels in fish fed diets containing an alternative ingredient, such as barley protein concentrate. Technician Jason Frost nets trout for the analysis. Photo: Steve Ausmus USDA/ARS

Vital change

“We are seeking innovators who do not accept business-as-usual and will apply their ingenuity to make aquaculture industry more feasible, and more environmentally responsible now and in the future,” said University of Arizona Professor Kevin Fitzsimmons, a judge of the Fish Oil Challenge and former president of the World Aquaculture Society. “Changing the way we grow farmed fish is vital to feed ourselves without further depleting the wild-fish populations on which aquaculture depends.”

For the current rate of expansion of aquaculture to continue, most scientists and aquaculture industry analysts agree that alternative ingredients need to be used. If alternatives are not found the aquaculture industry will contract, according to the World Bank. Some of the innovations may be found in new collaborations between the biotechnology and seafood sectors to create a fish-free fish oil that provides essential nutrients for aquaculture and for people using fewer land and water resources.

Improve sustainability

“From its inception, biotechnology has been about finding solutions to societal challenges,” said Christopher Oakes, director of corporate development at SynBioBeta, the activity hub for the synthetic biology industry. "Our hope is that we can apply engineering principles to biology and increase collaboration between these two industries to improve the sustainability of farm-raised seafood."

To help the contestants, the F3 team’s fish nutrition experts have used known fatty acid profiles of wild forage fish to develop target values that will need to be met to qualify as a viable fish oil replacement.

Cost-effective alternatives

“Our goal is to use technological innovation to overcome challenges in the aquaculture supply chain and change the way we feed farm-raised fish,” said Fitzsimmons. “The industry has made tremendous strides to vastly increase yields of aquaculture products with limited supplies of fish meal and fish oil. However, if we are to become even more sustainable and want to ensure a robust industry in the future, more innovation is needed to find cost-effective alternative ingredients.”

China and the Asia-Pacific region are the largest markets in the global aquaculture industry, which is expected to be worth more than $200 billion by 2020. The global fish oil market is projected to reach over $4 billion by 2021, and the rapidly expanding growing global aquaculture industry is the greatest source of demand for fish oil. Demand for fish oil as an ingredient in dietary supplements and pet food is also on the rise.

Organisers say the goal of the F3 Fish Oil Challenge is to accelerate the availability of cost-competitive, viable alternatives to fish oil that provide the essential nutritional components for fish that at the same time help reduce demand for wild-caught for fish feed and enhance food security. To learn more and register to compete, visit