Research Highlights

Research Highlights
Filling a Gap in the Aquaculture Industry

By Sarah Hill

Students seeking careers in the aquaculture industry may find themselves inadequately prepared after graduation for practical job requirements—in particular, feed formulation. The Soy Aquaculture Alliance is funding a project that looks to remedy that situation.

This project is one example of many projects that support soybeans in aquaculture diets funded by the Soy Aquaculture Alliance over the past several years. Another project evaluates how to enhance soybean utilization in Atlantic salmon diets using insect meal as a complimentary ingredient. A different project focuses on integrating approaches to identify and select rainbow trout families that use soy protein feed most efficiently.

Dominique Bureau, professor of animal nutrition at the University of Guelph in Ontario and Chief Scientific Officer at Wittaya Aqua International, has taught college courses on fish and crustacean nutrition since the 1990s. Bureau has been instrumental in designing and teaching a two-day intensive short course that trains graduate students how to utilize software for feed formulation for fish and crustaceans. 

Intensive, Challenging Curriculum

The curriculum addresses how to formulate feed for more than 20 commercial species, including Atlantic salmon, channel catfish, hybrid striped bass, Pacific white shrimp, rainbow trout, tilapia and more.

“We’re filling a gap in the training of the students,” Bureau says. “Feed formulation is a common part of the animal science curriculum, but many students in aquaculture come from backgrounds in marine biology or fisheries and wildlife, so they don’t have any exposure to feed formulation. We’re bringing everyone to the same level.”

The short course, which lasts six to seven hours each day, also underscores the importance of soybeans to fish and crustacean diets. The curriculum examines the value of soybean meal, which is the major protein source in fish feed today. Some feeds use up to 50% soybean meal, so soybeans play a very important role. Bureau brings in aquaculture industry experts to share their experiences with the class. 

“We tried to be systematic, but the course does cover different topics and changes from year to year,” Bureau says. “Some years, it will be a more basic training, while other years, more advanced.”

The course reviews typical feed ingredients to help students understand their basic composition and how to determine how much of that ingredient is digestible. Next it covers the specific nutritional requirements for each fish and/or crustacean species—crucial information for designing accurate feed formulations. 

“The feed should have the correct nutrient levels to meet their requirements or achieve a specific objective,” Bureau adds. “We also teach students how nutrition needs have been met in the past.”

The third aspect of the short course is learning how to build feed recipes. Students learn the principles of feed formulation, how feed formulation approaches have changed over the decades, and how to balance the composition of the ingredients, the animal’s needs, logistical limitations, texture and more.

“We’re trying to put everything together,” Bureau says. “You also have to be able to provide quality control if you’re working in a factory setting or if you’re checking to make sure the ingredient you’ve received is good quality before mixing it into a feed for the animals.”

Another key component of the short course is learning how to use feed formulation software. The software doesn’t always provide the best diet recommendations for fish and crustaceans, so students must learn to discern and adjust as needed.

“The software provides you with a mathematical answer, but the students have to check if the answer makes sense or not,” Bureau says. “Students learn how to adjust the recipe to specifications that will make the feed acceptable to clients, appropriate for the species and country it will be fed in, whether that feed will sink or float, and more. Feed formulators must be able to adjust and learn to use what they have available.”

The students complete increasingly more intense formulation exercises to practice different scenarios while keeping an eye on feed costs. 

Looking Ahead

The first short course was held in June 2022 and had about 30 collegiate participants from across the United States. Auburn University, the University of Idaho, University of Maine, University of Miami, and Texas A&M University were some of the institutions represented in that first cohort. 

In-person training opportunities are preferred, due to the interactivity and encouraging students to ask questions. Since June 2022, Bureau has conducted 44 workshops for aquaculture industry personnel around the world, including in Egypt, India, Panama, Türkiye and other countries. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, with participants indicating that the course improved their confidence in their work in the aquaculture industry. They also appreciated the interaction between their peers and aquaculture industry leaders during the course. 

Aquaculture industry professionals are welcome to participate in the second short course, such as sales personnel for aquaculture feed ingredient companies. The next session is targeted for September 2023, and anticipated to be held at the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada. 

Published: Jun 12, 2023

The materials on SRIN were funded with checkoff dollars from United Soybean Board and the North Central Soybean Research Program. To find checkoff funded research related to this research highlight or to see other checkoff research projects, please visit the National Soybean Checkoff Research Database.