Protocols are complex, with many steps, many variables and many ingredients; the impact of environmental conditions is critical and these conditions are often maintained by several pieces of equipment and complex engineering systems.
Even if innovation in larval nutrition happens at a relatively slow pace we do have continuous change in needs from hatcheries and this makes the task of supplying the right products and technologies for this industry a tough one.
In the past I have collaborated with a few companies supplying nutrition products for this industry and one of these was Bernaqua, where my friend and colleague Filipe Pereira has worked for almost 15 years, having carried out roles in R&D, product development, plant management, sales and technical support.
His experience covers practically all the bass and bream markets in Europe and North Africa and I prepared a few questions that try to bring out some of the trends and challenges he and many other sales and support professionals experience throughout their careers.
Interview with Filipe Pereira
DT - Filipe, if you look at the larval nutrition market in Europe today compared to how it was 15 years ago, what do you see are the main differences, both in terms of offerings from nutrition companies and in demand from hatcheries?
FP - There are indeed a few differences since I started working in the hatcheries industry within the marine finfish sector. They can be divided in several aspects, but in my view one has been constant during all these years: the search to reduce live food consumption, mainly where artemia is concerned.
As we know, for decades live food has been the main source of nutrition for the first phases of larval development. As a reduction of artemia usage became a target, hatchery managers’ attention turned to an increase in rotifer production. This coincided with development of the microalgae industry, as the need to capture CO2 from the atmosphere increased together with investments in the field of biodiesel. Easier access to microalgae allows better and more stable rotifer production, giving managers more confidence in the use of rotifers as an alternative to artemia.
Also during this period, we have seen attempts to reduce live food enrichment periods. Results here were often insufficient and this, together with old habits, did not allow these short-period enrichments to be fully evolved, with most of the hatcheries keeping to their “old” protocols.
Another consequence of the pressure to reduce artemia usage was the development by companies of new weaning diets aiming at compensating the nutritional factors previously delivered by live food. Several quality feeds came into the market, but today we are still far from finding a feed that can totally replace artemia whilst keeping fry quality unchanged.
With live food reduction and increased trust in the feeds that partially replace it, we have also seen some very interesting Europe-wide projects focused on deformities related to nutritional factors (for example the FineFish project). Although this was a long research project its results are still far from being easy to apply to the Industry.
Another important change in these almost 15 years, not directly related to nutrition, is the availability of staff. The crisis of 2008/2009 led many people out of the industry and many never returned. Thus, with the growth of the market since then, there is a gap in the availability of specialized staff that can be hired by hatcheries. This lack of specialized staff makes improvements in production protocols even more complicated.
DT - Typically in developing markets the need for customer support goes down as hatcheries and their staff become more competent. Have you seen this happening in the larval nutrition market in Europe over the years? Or does customer support remain a key aspect of selling larval nutrition products?
FP - There is indeed the concept that when people become more competent and specialized they have less need for advice from external people. Nevertheless, when we are on the road we see the opposite - experts and consultants are becoming too few to fulfil all demands for support from hatcheries.
Imagine a hatchery manager that has been in the same hatchery for 10 or more years. That person has a very deep knowledge of all systems and production protocols in his/her hatchery. The same manager gets busier with other administration tasks as time goes by, and their dedication to listen, learn and discuss new protocols is reduced over time. Trials to compare products decrease as people tend to be satisfied with what they have. This is, I believe, when people need us the most. We always have new concepts to discuss, new products, new projects, etc. Thus, hatcheries are always keen to have us visiting them and open to direct discussions, even as they became more competent and specialized. Good ideas always come out of these visits and these relationships.
I also believe that hatchery staff need to have contact with the outside world, even if only to exchange ideas and to benchmark their performance against other hatcheries and we fulfil this role as well.
In addition, when we visit hatcheries built with the latest technologies (for example hatcheries in RAS), we are often asked for advice on how to adapt key nutrition protocols to the new systems.
In summary, there is always something for which you are needed, whether for physical changes in products, launch of new products, new protocols, new applications, new species, exchange of ideas and concepts, etc.
Lately there has also been an increased concern with biosecurity issues also related to the feed. As many managers believe feeds can be a vector of contamination, constant research and advice from us has an impact on the success of hatchery productions.
DT - There has been a trend in research and product development for this market that aims to simplify and automate larval production in marine species. The use of magnetic beads to facilitate artemia decapsulation, dry algal products to simplify use of micro-algae, weaning diets to replace artemia and rotifers are a few examples. From your experience, and looking back over the last 15 years, is hatchery production simpler today than it was?
FP - Part of this question was answered above but I will develop a few points on this specific issue:
• As I have mentioned, artemia reduction has been a main focus in hatcheries in the last decade. Artemia has always been considered as “dirty” (from a microbiological point of view) but a nutritionally convenient product, that requires relatively complicated protocols (decapsulation, membranes, filtration, etc). The use of magnetized artemia came to decrease the work load at a protocol level: no decapsulation needed anymore.
• There are many hatchery operators that want to reduce further the need for live food. Rotifers, as mentioned previously, are one of the solutions to decrease consumption of artemia, as they can partially replace artemia. The issue here is the numbers of rotifers needed to supply a full weaning phase, as rotifers are smaller than artemia and producing billions of rotifers is not easy. Production of only one type of live food would make things easier. Availability of mass produced microalgae makes this product more accessible to all hatcheries.
• The reduction of live food is always a big challenge to the nutrition industry. At the level of formulation, it might be quite “simple” to imitate/copy artemia composition but from the physical point of view it is close to impossible to imitate artemia or other live feeds. Live food moves around in the tank, and inert feeds do not move when placed in water. Thus, even though formulations might be good, the physical behavior in water is still a big challenge. These replacement feeds would indeed help decreasing the work load for hatchery technicians but so far there are no clear solutions.
DT - How are new species such as those promoted in the Diversify EU project changing the strategy of hatchery nutrition suppliers? Do you see any impact on new product development and testing? Is the market asking suppliers for new products?
FP - This is an issue I have been following closely for the last 7-8 years. There has been a lot of work done in what concerns the production of new species, but I believe there is a lack of direct communication between the R&D Institutions and the reality of industrial production. I will explain. Development of methods to produce new species are one of the most important issues for the future of the industry. Supply of new products (species) as well as new processing technologies are among the key drivers for the growth of the aquaculture industry. R&D in research institutions leads to new protocols, new ingredients for feeds, etc., to produce new species but if it does not have close communication with the industry (fish feed producers, hatcheries and farmers, etc.), R&D will not be aware if the protocols can be applied by the industry. It is also important that R&D is in close contact with the sales departments of companies so they can explore better market needs and opportunities.
An example of this is what we are facing with the meagre (Argyrosomus sp); it has been a promising species for as long as I can remember, and although the protocols are similar to bass/bream and it has faster growth, production quantities are not increasing significantly as only small areas in Europe are consuming this species.
Production of tuna/yellowtail is also an example of where larval production still relies on producing other fish larvae (for example sea bream larvae that are used as live food in tuna larval protocols), something that makes it very complex in industrial hatcheries.
The sole (Solea sp) is another candidate where we have seen a growth in production over the last few years. This species has brought new challenges to the fish feed industry as their way of feeding is very different from other species.
When we talk about the nutrition of these new species, you have sometimes seen examples of “revolutionary” ingredients at the R&D level, which unfortunately cannot be reproduced in an industrial level for many reasons like cost of raw materials, market availability and others.
A few years ago I presented at a conference, explaining that what I believe we need in Europe is a fast-growing marine species that does not consume artemia and, if possible, no live food at all in order to simplify protocols. Will we ever get there??
— Diogo Thomaz