Grains for fish food

From paddock to the bottle all 'on-farm'. Bob MacSmith holds the family product: light and dark canola oils.

Several Australian companies have begun using soybean meal in manufactured feeds for fish-farming. This development could give Australian grain growers a foothold in the booming Asian fishfeed market, forecast to reach 1.9 million tonnes by the year 2000.

The use of soybean meal for aquaculture results from nutrition research into grain-based diets for silver perch.

Searching for a cheaper alternative to fishmeal, scientists from NSW Fisheries tested soybean meal, canola meal, cottonseed meal, peanut meal, lupins, field peas, cowpeas and chick peas. The team concluded that all these ingredients have the potential for use as protein sources for fish diets. A reduction in fibre content, possibly through de-hulling, could increase the total protein content and energy up-take of some of the components, especially the grain legumes.

Protein, energy and lower cost

Soybean meal, canola meal and peanut meal have protein and energy values similar to those of Peruvian fishmeal, which is a benchmark of quality.

The advantage is the grains cost only $270-320/tonne, compared with more than $l,000/tonne for the fishmeal. Production of aquaculture feeds in Asia increased more than four-fold from 1986 to 1990, much faster than the increase in fish production. The protein source of choice for most fish and crustacean feeds has been fishmeal, but supplies are declining, and prices are increasing. Researchers are now looking at optimum levels of grain-based components in fish food.