California Sea Grant funds sustainable aquaculture project

Pallab Sarker is developing sustainable feed for farm-raised fish. (Photo by Devin Fitzgerald)

Pallab Sarker, an associate research professor in environmental studies, has received support from the Coastal Sea Grant program to fund his research into the development of sustainable feed for farmed fish.

Sarker is one of 19 recipients of grants announced this week by California Sea Grant, a partnership of the federal government, the state of California, and universities that aims to create knowledge and develop products and services that benefit the economy, the environment, and the public. The program provided a total of $900,000 to support projects focused on aquaculture and resilient coastal communities over the next year or two.

Sarker received nearly $120,000 for an aquaculture project that is focused on developing cost-effective, fish-free feed for farm-raised rainbow trout.

“The results of this research will advance what we know about the nutritional value and economic feasibility of environmentally sustainable aquaculture feed, a key factor for the growth of the aquaculture industry," said Sarker.

The growing demand for farmed fish is creating a need for sustainable feed. Current feeds rely too heavily on fishmeal and fish oil from small, wild fish like anchovies and sardines, putting those populations in jeopardy.

Sarker is collaborating with environmental studies professor Anne Kapuscinski, co-PI on the grant, to develop a new protein meal to feed farmed trout. Their formula utilizes microalgal biomass left over from the oil extraction process used to produce omega-3 oils for human consumption. That biomass is mixed with other omega 3-rich marine microalga to fully replace fishmeal and fish oil in rainbow trout aquafeeds, resulting in an entirely fish-free feed.

The grant will support development of the new processed microalgal protein, as well as analysis of trout growth, water-pollution consequences, and the economic viability of the experimental feeds.

The goal is to develop a more environmentally sustainable, cost effective method to feed farmed trout, while also potentially improving the nutritional values of the fish. The results will be shared with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, private and public trout-farming facilities, and at conferences.

“There’s a lot of interest nationally in aquaculture and growing the nation’s ocean-based economy,” said California Sea Grant Director Shauna Oh. “The new projects funded through this call continue the program’s focus on sustainable aquaculture, including aquaculture to restore endangered populations, seaweed farming and outreach, as well as research that can inform development of an environmentally friendly aquaculture industry in California.”