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Algae Feed Proposed to Enrich Farm Salmon Fatty Acids

Salmon in store

(Marlith, Wikimedia Commons)

21 November 2016. A developer of feeds for farmed salmon says its algae-based feed supplements could arrest the sharp decline in omega-3 fatty acids discovered in a recent study. The company TerraVia Holdings in San Francisco makes an algae supplement for farmed fish that it says can substitute for oil from small fish normally eaten by salmon, but are disappearing.

TerraVia is responding to a study reported by the BBC and others in October 2016 that concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids in farmed salmon today are about half the level of farmed salmon caught 5 years ago. The study was conducted by the Institute of Aquaculture at University of Stirling in the U.K., led by Douglas Tocher, a biochemist at the institute. Tocher studies molecular biology and the role of genetics in regulating lipid and fatty acid metabolism and nutrition in fish, particularly those with omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-3s are considered essential polyunsaturated fatty acids with benefits affecting the heart and brain. These substances are believed to reduce inflammation, and help improve heart health and cognitive functions. University of Maryland Medical Center cites data showing infants who do not get enough omega-3 fatty acids from their mothers during pregnancy are at risk for developing vision and nerve problems. And American Heart Association recommends eating foods high in omega-3s, such as salmon, twice a week.

Tocher and colleagues, however, found that people would need to eat twice as much salmon as before to get the same omega-3 benefits. “About five years ago,” Tocher told the BBC, “a portion of Atlantic salmon of 130 grams was able to deliver three-and-a-half grams of beneficial omega-3. This is actually our weekly recommended intake. Now, the level of omega-3 has halved.” Much lower levels of oil in fish feed is believed to be responsible for lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the farm-raised fish.

TerraVia is a provider of food, nutrition, and specialty ingredients based on algae. The company partners with agribusiness enterprise Bunge Ltd. to make a fish feed ingredient from algae known as AlgaePrime DHA designed for farmed raised fish. DHA is short for docosahexaenoic acid, a specific omega-3. AlgaePrime DHA, say the companies, is rich in long-chain or complex DHA similar to those found naturally in fish and olive oils, but in higher concentrations.

“AlgaPrime DHA contains approximately 3 times the level of DHA compared to fish oil,” says TerraVia vice-president Walter Rakitsky in a company statement. “One ton of AlgaPrime DHA is the equivalent of saving up to 40 tons of wild caught fish from our oceans on a DHA basis.”

AlgaPrime DHA is made in a joint venture with Bunge’s subsidiary in Brazil producing renewable edible oils. The companies say AlgaPrime DHA is a microalgae product from sugar cane waste fermented into omega-3 algae. The process, the companies add, uses low carbon and water inputs.

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