Leader: Dimitris Barkas (NIREUS Aquaculture, Greece)
This transition network is focused on developing the use of European-grown grain legumes in the production of farmed fish. It comprises four actor groups involved in the aquaculture value chain:
Irish Grain Legumes Group
German Pea and Bean Network
Europe Soya Value Chain Development Group
The European Union is a global leader in fish farming with a focus on five fish species: Atlantic salmon, rainbow trout, European sea bass, gilthead sea bream and common carp. If aquaculture is to contribute to sustainable protein production and use, it must be based on the efficient conversion of plant protein into fish with minimal use of fishmeal. These fish species are particularly demanding with respect to feed quality, especially protein content and quality. Carnivorous fish are particularly sensitive to some specific components of grain legumes that can impair protein digestibility and amino acid bioavailability and severely affect pancreatic function. There are several anti-nutritional factors to consider with grain legumes that can affect the nutritional performance of fish diets. Besides these quality requirements, the use of a given legume-based source of protein is determined by cost that must be competitive compared with alternatives. In order to have a common price comparison base, costs are expressed in Euros per protein unit. Today, the major EU fish farming countries import more than 50% and up to 90% of the high-protein plant-based feed ingredients they use from countries outside the EU.
This network is examining the current limitations to using European legumes and compiling knowledge and knowhow available to the consortium, complementing this with field demonstrations. The challenges are both technical, related to protein content, amino acid profiles, anti-nutritional factors and enhanced protein digestibility, and financial, related to cost effectiveness of legume use in fish feeds.
The overall goal is the development of an innovative legume-based fish production chain. The specific technical ambition is to generate specifications for the use of legumes in fish feeds and to develop a fish-legume certification to add value to EU-certified legumes, and to boost competitiveness of both certified agriculture and aquaculture. The network does this in close collaboration with the Cool-season Legume and the Soy transition networks. The Greek involvement is particularly relevant because Greece is the leading Mediterranean aquaculture country but is highly dependent on imported plant protein for this purpose. This challenge will be tackled with examination of crop production and advanced processing methods, and the introduction of specialized analytical methodology for quality.