Growing Fish Feed: Protecting Our Health And The Oceans

Over the last centuries, we have greatly depleted the oceans, which used to have superabundance. Most unrecognized, this has dramatically reduced their resilience and their ability to mitigate challenges such as pollution and extreme climate. The decrease in fish in rivers and oceans destabilizes and puts under threat the global food web. Aquaculture (the farming of fish) has been posed as a solution. However, aquaculture fish are typically fed with processed fish caught in the wild. There is a need to find alternatives.

Here, we present a plant-based fish diet that is available at little to no cost, requires very little labor and can be grown in immediate proximity to the fish. In the last several months, our team has experimented with this diet and gradually reduced the commercially purchased fish feed for our Nile Tilapia fish. 70% of our fish diet now consists of a mix of chaya mansa (tree spinach), colocasia leaves, moringa leaves and banana leaves, with the commercial feed now at 30% and decreasing.

The advantages of transitioning from a commercial fish feed to a locally-grown organic fish feed are several. It reduces the costs, waste and energy required for transportation, processing, packaging and distribution. It assures that no artificial chemical compounds that might be used during commercial feed processing and conservation end up in the food chain, potentially compromising fish or human health. It adds to the overall nutritional value of fish feed, with micro and macronutrients which would be more bioavailable and better absorbed than commercial fish feed.

Technical Info

The factory produced fish feed is expensive and consists mostly of wild-caught fish.  Several government-funded researchers and fish food manufacturers have been working on figuring out a recipe for fishless fish food.  A current priority in the aquaculture industry is the need to partially or totally replace fishmeal with less expensive and easily available plant protein sources to reduce dependence on fish meal and soybean meal as the fundamental protein sources for aquatic animal diets without reducing the nutritional quality of feeds (Toan and Preston, 2010; Castillo and Gatlin, 2015).  

We began studying the feasibility of using on-farm inputs as fish food as opposed to commercially processed fish feed pellets at The Venus Project Integrated Aquaponics System.  Experiments are being conducted to evaluate the effect of using on-farm inputs, especially chaya mansa leaves, as a partial substitute of fish meal in fish diet on growth performance and feed utilization of Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) fish.  The fish were initially fed with a diet of Growell company with a minimum analysis of 32% crude protein, 3.5% crude fat, and not more than 7.0% crude fiber.  Our daily feed regimen for fish now includes 30% weight of the above-mentioned diet plus on-farm inputs such as colocasia leaves, moringa leaves, banana leaves and chaya mansa leaves. These on-farm resources are cheap to produce, locally available, and are self-sustaining. We were able to cut down the pelleted fish feed to over 70% with this experiment.  Results have begun to demonstrate that growth performance parameters (final body weight, weight gain, specific growth rate, and survival rate) were not affected at all with increasing the above on-farm inputs in fish diet.

Moringa (Moringa oleifera) or popularly called drumstick tree is traditionally cultivated as a backyard plant and used as a vegetable.  It can also be grown as part of a living fence.  Parts of Moringa used traditionally as human food are green pods, tender leaves, flowers, and oil from seeds. (Gopalakrishnan et al., 2016)

Colocasia esculenta is cultivated for its large, starchy, spherical corms (underground stems), commonly known as “taro root,” which are consumed as a cooked vegetable, made into puddings and breads. The large leaves of the taro are commonly stewed. (Buntha et al., 2008; F. Attalla et al., 2021)

Chaya Mansa (Cnidoscolus aconitifolius) leaves “are an excellent source of a number of essential nutrients for a healthy, balanced diet. In fact, Chaya is more nutritious than many green leafy vegetables such as spinach, Chinese cabbage and amaranth. The leaves are very high in protein, calcium, iron and vitamins A and C.” (USAID Technical Bulletin #92, 2013)

Other terrestrial plant leaf meals:  Use of other leaf meals from terrestrial plants such as banana, cowpea, squash, broad bean, papaya beans, and cucumber are being evaluated for use as a potential protein source in the diet of Nile tilapia fish to replace fish meal. (Dorothy et al., 2018)

Ongoing Research & Development

We are constantly looking for ways to further improve upon what we are doing. A good improvement reduces costs and work, enhances nutrition and yield, increases the resiliency and diversity of the system, creates mutually-beneficial relationships, has positive ecological and health effects, and enables new possibilities. Here are some of the current improvements we are engaged with, at various stages of development:

1. Growing Mushrooms
Mushrooms can be added to the system without requiring any additional space, by utilizing the shaded and unused ground areas beneath the vegetables. The moisture, temperature, and nutrient-rich aquaculture water we have seem like very favorable conditions for mushroom growth. We have done two trials so far, which were unsuccessful due to harsh climate and the different growing medium (sand). Learning from our experiences, we are getting ready to do a third trial.

2. Growing Berries
Similar to the above, there is a shaded area between the ground and the level of the vegetables. Berries that like shade can be grown in this space. We are currently researching which berries might be suitable to grow here, such as strawberries under the tomatoes.

3. Silk Clothes
Would it be cool if in addition to fruits and veggies, we could also grow our clothes? We are looking at possibilities for introducing silkworms into our system. They eat certain kinds of leaves, such as mulberry leaves, and secrete the silk thread out of which silk clothes are made. We are looking to obtain mulberry saplings from a nearby farmer who is an expert in sericulture.

4. Extending Produce Shelf Life
It often happens that a large quantity of produce is ready for harvesting, but there is not enough need for this much food right away. This leads to the produce deteriorating. It would help if there was a sort of a buffer, so that the produce is steadily available as the need for food arises. One way this could be done is by keeping the produce at a lower temperature. We are looking into natural cooling systems which use the evaporation of water to achieve a cooling effect. Two examples are clay pot coolers and charcoal cooling chambers.

5. Reducing Or Removing External Fish Feed
The biggest ongoing cost in an aquaponics setup like ours is the commercial fish feed which is purchased from outside vendors. It is an external input that often involves harmful health and ecological practices in its making. It also relies on a supply chain with its own transportation and infrastructure. With the above update, we are happy to report a 70% reduction in the use of commercial fish feed.

If you are interested in any of the above or other possibilities, we invite you to contact our team. Suggestions and feedback are also welcome in the comments below.

References
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Post Authors

Vijayakumar Narayanan

Vijayakumar Narayanan (VKN)

VKN runs a private limited company (named startup of the year) in India backed by over 9 years of hands-on experience as an early adopter of Integrated Aquaponics System (IAS) methods. His focus areas include but are not limited to commercial farming, training, consulting and/or franchising IAS technology. For the last couple of years, he has been working with various teams in planning and designing the agricultural belt of an entire social complex of The Venus Project. His work on that included scalable IAS solutions for the execution of various agricultural methods and practices of cultivating the soil, producing crops and raising livestock and in varying degrees the preparation and marketing of the resulting products. Those efforts led to this current #TVPIAS project and VKN is now in charge of its implementation.

Borislav Zlatanov

Borislav Zlatanov

Borislav’s background includes neuroscience, teaching and IT engineering. He is interested in both design for radical effectiveness and a wider systems perspective across space and time. His work with The Venus Project over the years has been in diverse roles, often supporting the creation or automation of procedures and workflows in various teams. He has created a couple of web platforms which were inspired from integrating insights from disparate areas. For this project, one main purpose for him will be to support the integration of knowledge from a variety of fields into a single whole, out of which completely new insights can be born, as well as to support the spreading of this knowledge to people around the world.

Frixos Proedrou

Frixos Proedrou

Frixos is a nutritionist/dietitian specialized in both health and disease. He has done a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in this area, collaborated with several hospitals and universities, and worked professionally and conducted research with patients on nutrition and quality of life. He has also co-created simple nutrition analysis and menu creation tools. For the past decade he has shifted his focus on a more holistic approach towards nutrition, including botany, natural remedies and traditional medicine. He has experience in natural building, hydraulic engineering, composting, soil creation, companion planting, landscaping, water management, heating systems, geopolymer techniques and is interested in anything related to the land, food production and energy conversion.

John Tan

John S H Tan

John started his journey with The Venus Project as a Regional Coordinator for TVP Support Malaysia and is currently a member of the TVP Food & Agriculture Global Team. His education and background include hospitality and event management, ecology and wildlife conservation, environmental management, Earth science and botany. Over the years he has collaborated and volunteered in various projects related to urban biodiversity, coral reef conservation and nature conservation with several non-profit organizations. He is also passionate about the study of human behaviours and the human interactions with the natural world.

3 Comments

  1. All of the energy for the Venus project is being put into the future & none is being put into the here & now. The Venus project has wasted almost all of its current resources, volunteer human beings. If the Venus project is to succeed, it must organize all people to form a global community. Design an app with local, regional & global communications communities. Once you have millions involved, the rest of the rest will be on board. Then adapt a few current cities to your ideas. A working city of the future is too steep a gradient to be the first step.

  2. The potential of the Venus Project may not be limited to establishing a self-sufficient community; it should consider the internet and current AI technology. I see that you have contemplated the issue of language, and now artificial intelligence represents a significant shift in this area. Perhaps it would be worthwhile to employ artificial intelligence, such as the forthcoming AI agent, to engage in direct economic activities. If the U.S. government decides to implement UBI next year, it could present an opportunity.

  3. Yes we need to leave our oceans and all life in it alone so it can rebound on its own. Also the use of silkworms for human “needs” is another form of use by our species. Any beautiful future will need to embrace veganism 100%. Animals deserve their own lives on land and sea and humans need no longer be sick due to the ingestion of animals. And the environment polluted by animal agriculture needs to recover by ceasing animal ag industries. A real evolution is going vegan followed by human ingenuity. If we kill and torture animals, the ripple effect effects our consciousness. Wars and mindless harmful use of the Earth will not end until we address this as one of our highest priorities.

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