Changes to Marine Harvest’s feed management regime allow for more variation in site strategies while continuing to provide consistent and efficient growth throughout the business unit.
“We have recently shifted from looking at the feeding behavior of the fish at depth and are focusing more on what’s happening on the surface,” said Feed Manager Tim O’Hara. It’s difficult to accurately interpret when fish stop eating, he added, saying that the company is now using the feed management principle that as long as the fish have enough feed to meet their growth potential, they will increase their weight at a satisfactory rate and be harvest-ready at the appropriate time.
Immediately following the merger, it was critical that all sites moved in the same direction at the same time in regards to feeding. Feed guidelines that weren’t necessarily as flexible as they had been in the past were introduced in order to provide consistency. “Now that everyone is singing from the same song sheet, since late last summer, we’ve been more able to take into consideration site variables such as environmental and staff fluctuations. This means giving back a larger degree of control over feeding to each site and becoming more flexible as circumstances dictate.
Because such a large portion of a site’s operating cost is feed, it’s crucial to ensure that every pellet finds a mouth and that every fish has plenty opportunity to “sit at the table” at each meal. With the new feeding regime, each pen is fed for a minimum of 40-45 minutes per day, at a rate that makes certain every pellet that enters the water is eaten, explained Tim. In order to accomplish this goal, a minimum feeding time and maximum rate of feed per minute was introduced. Although the improvement in feed conversion rate (FCR) is starting to flatten off, Marine Harvest continues to pursue further substitution of marine proteins and oils with poultry and veggie products in feed. This will decrease the marine index (the amount of factory fish swimming in the ocean that is needed to produce a kilogram of farmed salmon).
We’re at a point where large improvements in FCR have already happened so we’re looking to feed management to further fine tune inputs to the day to day needs of our fish, commented Tim. The introduction of a feeding behavior scale that is used by all sites helps with this. The key is to ensure widespread distribution of feed over the entire pen for a consistent amount of time fuelling the nutritional needs of the fish and not how much they can eat.
By Gina Forsyth
Ever wondered what’s new in the world of fish feed? Well, you’ve come to the right place. Tim O’Hara, Feed Manager, recently shared a variety of information about Marine Harvest’s improvements and expanding knowledge in this key aspect of aquaculture.
Although advances continue to be made in feed formulas, the focus remains on top quality raw materials. Marine Harvest fish are currently fed a feed that is 15 to 18% fishmeal and approximately 13% fish oil. The balance comes from poultry meal, corn gluten and vegetable oil.
A feed trial, undertaken at Doctor and Brougham Point sites in 2009, reduced the level of fish oil to 7% and was designed to minimize use of marine raw materials. “During the trial we experienced lower growth and an increased feed conversion rate (FCR) compared to our standard diet”, said Tim, adding that this led to less economic viability. Standard diets have been resumed but research into fishmeal and oil replacement continues.
Much media attention has been focused on the levels of contaminants in fish feed, such as dioxins and PCBs. These toxins naturally accumulate in fats and therefore are found primarily in the fish oil portion of the feed.
There are two main ways to decrease these levels – use fish oil from areas where the contaminants are lower, such as Chile and Peru and use less fish oil. Using both factors has reduced contaminant content of feeds by ¾ of mid 1990 levels stated Tim.
Although organic pollutants in fish are a small fraction of Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) warning levels, the importance of research into feeding fish, diets that substantially reduce fishmeal and oil continues from a sustainability perspective.
Enter Dr. Erin Friesen, Product Manager at Skretting North America in Vancouver. Erin focused on this hypothesis during her PhD research at UBC. Following lab and site trials with both farmed and wild salmon, she concluded that when fed a diet rich in land-based sources of oil such as flax and canola, contaminant levels in farmed fish were comparable to their wild counterparts. At the same time, farmed fish had higher levels of healthy Omega-3 fatty acids than the wild fish.
Erin’s research findings were published in the scientific journal Environmental Science and Technology in April 2008.
How much feed fish are given is a key component of both healthy fish and the economic bottom line.
Tim said, “We feed purely to the growth potential of the fish.” This means they are fed to the point where they will grow the most rather than to the point where they feel “stuffed”.
We stop feeding when they’re still actively eating because that extra nutrition isn’t needed for their growth, explained Tim. To put it another way, “feed intake is seen as an energy equation, not a volume equation,” added Tim.
This improves not only our FCR but influences the Fish In Fish Out (FIFO) ratio as well. FIFO refers to “how much wild fish it takes to create one kilogram of farmed salmon”. The International Fishmeal and Fish Oil Organization (IFFO) provides a clear explanation, suitable for the non-scientific reader, of the science behind accurately calculating the amount of wild fish needed to produce farmed fish. For more information, please visit www.iffo.net.
Tim O’Hara was brought up to see the funny side of life. Spend even a short amount of time with him and that becomes clear. Whether he’s talking about his pre-aquaculture days as an inspector for the South Africa fruit board – or remembering when he accidentally squeezed French’s mustard onto himself during his first company function in 1999, back in the Omega Salmon days – you can’t help but smile.
Currently Marine Harvest Canada’s Feed Manager based out of the Campbell River office, Tim was born in Plymouth, England, on Valentine’s Day. His main responsibilities include production strategy and feed formulation. He got his start in the aquaculture industry as Biological Controller with Hydro Seafood in Oban, Scotland, a position which allowed him to use his B Sc. in Microbiology from University College London. He was with Hydro for more than 20 years before making the move across the Pacific to Canada.
Outside work Tim enjoys movies – the classics and indie films are particular favorites –as well as golf at Storey Creek, listening to music, good food, and reading. Most recently he’s enjoyed Wild Swans, a multigenerational tale that gives a detailed and rich look into Communist China, and The Kite Runner.
His parents instilled into Tim the value of the Golden Rule, something he continues to use as a guiding principle.
Asked if there was one thing he’d like people to know about him, Tim replied, “That I’m always approachable and always have time”.
Feeding Fish at Ocean Falls
By Gina Forsyth
Recent years have seen significant positive changes in the world of fish feed, with Marine Harvest at its helm, according to Feed Manager Tim O’Hara.
Sourcing of alternative protein and oil raw materials has reduced our reliance on marine species. Feed is currently made up of approximately 15% fish meal with the balance of proteins coming from top quality vegetable sources such as corn gluten, soy, and rendered by products such as poultry meal and feather meal which is added to the feed in powdered form. Approximately 50% of oil in the feed now comes from non- marine sources and Marine Harvest is currently working to reduce its marine index to 1:1 (i.e., a kilogram of factory fish swimming in the ocean will produce a kilogram of farmed salmon).
This “fine tuning” of the raw materials through seeking out the best available quality means that the fish’s growth needs are met and also helps keep the cost of product under control as specific raw materials become scarce and expensive.
Feeding fish nutrient dense rations to biological potential rather than their physical capacity has led to lower feed conversion rates (FCRs). Fish are fed sufficiently for their biological needs and growth rates while not being “stuffed”. Feeding less means feed costs are kept under control and the environmental impacts significantly reduced.
O’Hara summed it up concisely when he said, “Fish are what they eat”. When fed a high quality diet throughout their life, that is reflected in the end product for which buyers are prepared to pay top dollar.
More efficient use of beta-carotene are on the way as well, which provides the potential for cost savings, however, O’Hara commented these are somewhat slow in coming because the color of fish is to some extent market driven and can change depending on the attitudes of consumers. He would like to see more efficient and targeted use of beta-carotene(s)’ that results in a 25% reduction in beta-carotene use over the growth cycle while maintaining market preferences. It’s taken a year to the current levels, with every indication the lower rate is certainly within realistic reach over the coming year.