Feed Meal: Nurturing Sustainability in the Shrimp Aquaculture Industry

Pamela Nath and Sally Tabares

June, 2024

Nowadays, much like many other food systems, aquaculture faces a dual sustainability challenge. 

On one hand, there is a need to increase aquaculture production to meet the food demand of a growing population. On the other hand, the industry faces the task of reducing the environmental impact of its production to mitigate climate change.


billion people will inhabit the world in 2050. It is estimated that the global demand for protein will double by that year.

0 %

of seafood available for human consumption will come from aquaculture by the year 2030.

Source: United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

However, the sector’s growth inevitably leads to a rise in greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), the main drivers of climate change.

For this reason, the Aquaculture Working Group on Environmental Footprint, led by the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH) and involving the participation of the Sustainable Shrimp Partnership (SSP), continues to work on understanding, measuring, and reducing the environmental footprint of aquaculture throughout the supply chain.

With the objective of evaluating the negative impact on aquaculture production and distinguishing between those with better environmental performance and those needing improvements, the working group has conducted preliminary tests to measure the carbon footprint of some of its members. Through this process, it was emphasized that feed meal plays a fundamental role in enhancing the sector’s environmental impact.

In 2017, feed meal production constituted 57% of the total GHG emissions derived from aquaculture.

As stated by the report Quantifying Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Global Aquaculture, published in Scientific Reports
The document also marks that within the emissions associated with mollusk and fish aquaculture, shrimp farming contributed 21% of GHG emissions, despite representing only 10% of the total production.

The sustainability of feed begins with the raw materials.

Helen Ann Hamilton
Global Sustainability Manager at BioMar


These findings underscore the opportunity to improve the environmental performance of shrimp industry nutrition. Moreover, they highlight the role of feed meal in contributing to the reduction of the environmental footprint of farmed shrimp.
Therefore, it is important for professionals in the sector to be aware of and actively ask for best practices among feed producers, in order to effectively address this environmental challenge.

“The sustainability of feed begins with the raw materials,” informs BioMar’s Global Sustainability Manager, Helen Ann Hamilton

In this company specialized in manufacturing feed for aquaculture, 97% of GHG emissions come from the production, growth, and harvesting of these components.

“Therefore, to improve the sustainability of our feed, we must strictly measure and monitor the sustainability performance of each individual ingredient using scientific environmental assessment tools,” maintains Hamilton, who is also a Ph.D. in Industrial Ecology.

Feed mill plants employ various scientific tools to understand the carbon footprint of their ingredients, and one of them is Life Cycle Assessment (LCA).

This method proves to be the most suitable and comprehensive approach for identifying critical points of environmental impact throughout the product life cycle, which could be mitigated or compared with various alternatives, according to the study “Effects of feed formula and farming system on the environmental performance of shrimp production chain from a life cycle perspective” published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology.

Among the ingredients that most influence the carbon footprint of feed are soy, palm oil, fishmeal, fish oil, and krill meal.

From a greenhouse gas perspective, Hamilton asserts that the agricultural commodities are the main contributors to the carbon footprint.

The expert explains that most shrimp feed recipes contain approximately 70% plant ingredients. Additionally, she specifies that the raw materials used in feed, which are associated with sustainability issues, vary depending on the feed recipe, age of the shrimp, and local sourcing practices.

Among the ingredients that significantly impact the carbon footprint of feed, Hamilton mentions soy products, palm oil, fish meal, fish oil, and krill meal. “We closely monitor these raw materials to ensure that we have the appropriate sourcing practices in place to guarantee and document that they are responsibly sourced,” she details.

On the other hand, Hamilton explains that at BioMar, they use LCA not only to calculate the carbon footprints of raw materials but also 17 other indicators, including water use, freshwater eutrophication, marine eutrophication, and land use, among others.
The sustainability of feed also depends on understanding the programs and production practices of the raw materials used, reports Karina Briones, Quality Manager at Skretting Latam.
“It is not the same to talk to a European producer, a North American one, or a South American one, because each country has different production practices. For us, it is important to know how our suppliers are aligning with our sustainability goals,” she shares.

“Sustainability certifications mark the starting point in the raw material sourcing process.

Karina Briones
Quality Manager at Skretting Latam

As part of its focus on nutritional and innovative solutions to reduce its carbon footprint, Skretting Latam incorporates novel ingredients that partially replace conventional plant ingredients.
For this reason, sustainability certifications mark the starting point in the raw material sourcing process.
Briones mentions that certifications for plant-based ingredients include ProTerra and the Round Table on Responsible Soy Association (RTRS), while those for marine-based ingredients include MSC, Marine Trust, and the Marine Trust Improvement Program.
An additional perspective to consider regarding the sustainable production of feed comes from Maria Alejandra Rivera, the Sustainable Development and External Communications Manager at Vitapro.

Rivera indicates that the systems they implement to ensure sustainability at Nicovita, Vitapro’s brand specializing in nutritional solutions for shrimp and fish, include strategies at both the operational level and the responsible sourcing of raw materials throughout their value chain.

An example of this is the Sustainable Sourcing Program, where Vitapro collaborates with its suppliers for the optimization and certification of key ingredients. This has resulted in the development of diets containing fishmeal that is 100% certified by MarinTrust or the Fisheries Improvement Project (FIP).

“Knowing the origin of the ingredients we use as raw materials is vital for assessing and managing the environmental impact associated with feed production. It allows us to work on reducing the impacts generated by transportation by choosing closer sources when available, optimizing transport routes, and promoting more sustainable agricultural practices among our suppliers,” adds Rivera.

“Knowing the origin of the ingredients we use as raw materials is vital for assessing and managing the environmental impact associated with feed production.

Maria Alejandra Rivera
Sustainable Development Manager at Vitapro

Rivera also mentions that other mechanisms they adopt to promote sustainable feed production in the long term include:
  • incorporating by-products into the diets to reduce pressure on scarce resources;
  • sustainable innovation to develop products, practices, and technologies that help decrease feed conversion (FCR), increase digestibility and feed efficiency;
  • contribute to the care of the cultivation environment;
  • and the adoption and promotion of sustainable standards and certifications.

In the ongoing quest for sustainable solutions in the aquaculture feed industry, one notable player is Houdek – Prairie Aquatech.

This US-based company employs fermentation to recycle by-products from agricultural processing, such as soybean meal and dried distillers grains, to produce an ingredient for commercial diets that is easily digestible and reduces reliance on less functional and less sustainable ingredients, such as fishmeal.

“Houdek itself was founded as a mechanism for the sustainable production of feed. A conversation between innovators with an eye for conservation and the knowledge to create change led to the fermentation technology that upcycles soybean meal to a safe, high-quality protein source for terrestrial animals and aquaculture,” expresses Stephanie Armstead, Director of Sustainability at Houdek.

The director also notes that, since soybean meal is the main ingredient, there is a need to address potential concerns related to deforestation.

“Houdek itself was founded as a mechanism for the sustainable production of feed.

Stephanie Armstead
Sustainability Director at Houdek

“We source soybean meal from local entities processing soybeans grown on the Great Plains, most of them within our home state of South Dakota. Soybean meal sourced by Houdek is produced in compliance with the United States Soybean Sustainability Assurance Protocol (SSAP)”, Armstead comments.

SSP Director, Pamela Nath, points out that the conscious choice of products from sustainable practices and pressure from aquaculture professionals are essential for driving the necessary changes in the environmental performance of feed in the industry.
Sustainability in shrimp aquaculture is a collective effort that involves the entire value chain. For this reason, collaboration and transparency are vital for integrating sustainability considerations at every stage, from the farm to the plate,” explains Nath.

“At SSP, we have associated members who, despite not being direct shrimp producers, are committed to sustainable production, significantly contributing to our efforts. From suppliers to academics, they bring their expertise and resources to drive sustainability in the industry,” she continues.

Sustainability in shrimp aquaculture is a collective effort that involves the entire value chain.

Pamela NAth
Director at the Sustainable Shrimp Partnership

For this reason, and to raise awareness among all stakeholders in the sector about critical points that require attention in feed production, SSP has actively collaborated with its associated members.
Through the knowledge and experience of these organizations, the goal is to better inform actors in the aquaculture industry about sustainable practices that manufacturers can implement to minimize the environmental impact of their products.

Above all, it is important for consumers to be aware that feed plants are prepared to offer solutions and adapt diets according to customer preferences, especially those that prioritize sustainability.

To make these sustainable practices a standard in the industry, it is crucial that the market supports and values diets that promote sustainability. This involves recognizing that, although they may have a higher initial cost due to specific requirements, promoting these practices is an investment in the future of the planet and the industry, as well as in the quality of our products.