Europe’s aquaculture sector plays a critical economic role, especially in coastal and rural areas. The sector is mainly composed of SMEs and microenterprises, and directly employs some 70 000 people. While the EU’s overall volume output has been more or less constant since 2000, global production has been growing by nearly 7 % per year. Increasing competition from other parts of the world has placed pressure on European producers to find ways of cutting costs and achieving greater efficiencies. “Current solutions, such as using antibiotics to reduce fish mortality rates and aquafeed with incorporated fishmeal and fish oil to improve growth, are inefficient, costly and extremely unsustainable,” says ALGABOOSTER project coordinator Manuel Tárraga, project development director at Spanish SME Buggypower. “There is a clear need for feed alternatives that achieve efficiencies in a sustainable, environmentally friendly and antibiotic-free manner.” To address these concerns, Tárraga and his team have developed a natural aquafeed enriched with marine microalgae. High-purity microalgae biomass, produced through a patented cultivation process, is used instead of freeze-dried biomass, thus eliminating the costly drying process. The feed is designed to boost fish immune systems and growth, and is tailored to achieving efficiencies in the farming of gilthead seabream. “For a medium-scale producer possessing between 10 and 15 aquaculture tanks, the aquafeed cost of 610-day pre-fattening and fattening of gilthead seabream is currently about EUR 250 000,” notes Tárraga.
Demand for natural aquafeed
Launched in August 2019, the 6-month ALGABOOSTER project enabled Buggypower to carry out feasibility studies, to analyse the product’s technical, commercial and financial viability. “From a technical point of view, we analysed the possibilities of improving the extrusion process, and of best preserving microalgae ingredients,” explains Tárraga. “We also evaluated the possibility of setting up an industrial-scale microencapsulation installation, as well as different options for optimising the ALGABOOSTER product formula.” A key finding was that microencapsulation would make the final fish feed product very expensive. Tárraga and his team therefore decided to avoid this process and instead focus on optimising extrusion. Contact with aquafeed manufacturers was also successfully made, helping the SME to explore possible co-branding partnerships. A study of the aquaculture feed additives helped the firm to target key European countries and develop a commercialisation strategy. Regulatory requirements and patent protection issues were also analysed. “From a financial point of view, we have been able to outline a pricing strategy and carry out a financial forecast,” he explains. “We now have updated financial projections for the 2022-2027 period, taking into account the number of potential users as well as identified risks.”
Boosting European aquaculture
Tárraga believes that the pathway towards commercialisation is clear. Demand for a natural microalgae-based aquafeed has been confirmed, and the SME is confident that their ALGABOOSTER product will help European aquaculture to achieve global competitiveness in a sustainable manner. “A natural aquatic feed enriched with the immunostimulatory complex of marine microalgae can definitely help to boost the competitiveness of the EU aquaculture sector,” adds Tárraga. “We think we can reduce mortality rates by between 50 % and 67 %, and reduce growth times by between 11 % and 21 %.” The company is currently looking for suitable aquaculture manufacturers and target users to test the product in real aquaculture farms.
ALGABOOSTER, aquaculture, fish, microalgae, extrusion, microencapsulation, aquatic, aquafeed, marine