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Algae deemed ‘viable’ fish oil alternative in aquafeed

After a breakthrough year, a commodities broker says algae may be ready to go mainstream as an alternative to fish oil just in time to stave off shortages.

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After a breakthrough year, expert says algae may be ready to go mainstream as an alternative to fish oil.

Though still priced at a relative premium, algae oil is poised to stand in as a critical alternative to fish oil in a looming shortage in the aquafeed industry.

World consumption of critical omega-3 fatty acids is expected to exceed demand by 2020, according to a November presentation by Christian Meinich, managing director of fish and vegetable oils at Norwegian commodities brokerage Holtermann. But after a breakthrough year that saw a dramatic expansion in commercial production, Meinich believes algal oil may soon become a common supplement to traditional fish oil sources of omega-3.

Aquaculture, and the salmon industry in particular, has known for years that a new source of EPA/DHA is needed to stave off an impending bottleneck, Meinich said. Aquaculture and other fish oil-consuming industries such as dietary supplements and pharmaceuticals continue to grow, but the world’s natural availability of fish oil remains constant.

There is still room for growth within the globe’s fish oil supplies, Meinich said, but a shortage triggered by an el Nino event in 1997-98 gave the industry a “taste of the future” that has the industry fishing for alternatives.

Today, fish oil represents 30% of the fats used in aquafeed, while vegetable oils comprise 70% of the industry’s consumption, according to Meinich. But algae oil’s day is dawning.

“Algae oil has had a breakthrough year because we have seen a distinct increase in the use in certain markets, mainly to boost the EPA/DHA content of salmon,” Meinich wrote in an email. The advent of full-scale commercial production, which began at Veramaris’ new facility in Blair, Nebraska, this year, also has the potential to boost algae’s popularity.

On top of that, regulatory pressure may push the aquafeed toward algae oil. The only other viable alternative to fish oil, Meinich said, is genetically modified vegetable oils from canola and rape seed, which he expects will meet strong resistance in Europe.

For now, Meinich said, algae oil will likely remain a novel ingredient featured in selective markets seeking high EPA/DHA content due to the relatively high price. “Further down the road,” he said, the alternative oil may “form part of the new sources of EPA/DHA supply required for long-term growth.”

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