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How can marine ingredients farming help address the fish food shortage? A conversation with Remi Gratacap of Aquanzo

“The solution to the problem of the aquafeed industry is to produce more marine ingredients without harming the ocean.” Remi Gratacap.


Author: Natalia Vasnier 


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In 2020, the Aquaculture industry globally represented a turnover of $204 billion and is expected to reach $262 billion by the end of 2026. Aquaculture is the process of breeding, rearing and harvesting fish, shellfish and other aquatic organisms in all aquatic environments. In recent years, the demand for seafood has increased, this means that breeders need more and more fish feed. Aquaculture amongst other animal feeds will need two times more marine ingredients by 2040, worth $23.6 billion. Currently commercial fish feed is not sustainable, as they consist of fish oil and fishmeal. These types of fishmeal are very resource-intensive, using fish caught in the wild to feed fish for commercial use. Experts predict that the demand of small fish for fish feeds with surpass the supply by 2037. Therefore, a long-term solution is needed. That's where the work of Aquanzo, a start-up dedicated to breeding Artemia to produce fishmeal, comes in.


“We know that marine ingredients have not increased significantly in volume over the past 40 years. But up to now the industry had enough fishmeal to support aquaculture. It has only been in the past few years, that there is a realisation that we do not have enough marine ingredients. The diets will have to use less fish meals, for example in Salmon aquafeed 60% of that was fish meals, now we need to reduce that to less than 20%”, Gratacap explains.


The journey leading to Aquanzo


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Remi Gratacap, CEO and Co-founder of Aquanzo

Remi Gratacap, CEO of Aquanzo, grew up with a strong interest in the aquaculture industry. He decided at seven years old that he would work with fish and that ambition shaped his career. He pursued a degree in pure Trout fish farming and realised that fish farming is a very physically challenging job. Upon that experience, he decided to turn to research and pursued a PhD, specialising in animal diseases.


Gratacap started his entrepreneurial journey in 2021 when he was recruited by Deep Science Ventures, a structure that aims at building high impact startups. Deciding to follow through with this offer, he wanted to have a different impact on the overall aquaculture, from creating knowledge to creating a product. “I decided to address the problem of the limited resources of fish meal and marine ingredients in general. The question is: how do we make more marine ingredients without harming the ocean?”. As a result, in February 2022 Aquanzo was established to address the limited supply of marine ingredients for the aquaculture industry. The solution they propose is to farm Artemia, a zooplankton, at scale by decoupling marine protein production from the ocean ecosystem.

 

Aquanzo's solution: farming Artemia


The need for alternative aquafeed meals has been ever so evident over the past couple of years. Currently, Krill is a popular aquafeed ingredient for the industry. However, Aquanzo decided to turn to Artemia. Artemia, also known as brine shrimp, grows to about 20mm in length and is a valuable food source for the aquaculture industry.

"Artemia meal can be used to feed all marine carnivorous fishes and shrimps who need fish meal in their diets".

Gratacap explains that there are several reasons why Artemia is a better alternative. “They are warm water organisms, metabolically and developmentally speaking, warm water organisms grow faster than cold water organisms. Krill for example, it takes them 1-2 years to reach sexual maturity, while for Artemia it takes 3 weeks. It takes almost a year for Krill to develop to their adult size, while for Artemia it takes 10 days.” Another reason for the use of Artemia “is that it is well known to the aquaculture industry, therefore there is no barrier entry. Moreover, Artemia has the property which allows the eggs, cysts, to go dormant which allows genetic preservation of specific families which is not possible with any other organisms”.


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Theoretically Artemia meal can be used to feed all marine carnivorous fishes and shrimps who need fish meal in their diets, Aquanzo can adapt what they feed the artemia. This does not include carpes or herbivorous species. Artemia are very good at using a wide variety of feed stocks. They can grow on protein-rich or carbohydrate-rich nutrients, the natural source of feed artemia eat is microalgae. Gratacap informs, “We are interested in any type of nutrient rich sources, for the Artemia to ingest. We are very keen to collaborate with different byproduct producers who want to valorise their byproducts. This will be interesting on to assess these feeds ingestions on their nutritional profile.”


Aquanzo is competing with a vast range of competitors, “We are competing with fish meals and Krill meals which provide the same products we provide however they produce it in a less sustainable manner. We are also competing with Artemia eggs harvested in the USA, China and the Kazakhstan/Russia regions.”, he adds, “We are competing with these resources for the same goal. However, in terms of impact, scalability side Aquanzo provides a different production system”.

 

Indeed, Gratacap and his team seeks to provide a fully integrated end-to-end solution to marine protection. For that Aquanzo is able to control the production system which allows them to have an impact on every single cog of the system. They further render their solution sustainable by “Using excess heat from other industries to heat up our tanks is something that will have a significant impact on our energy consumption. The use of renewable energy will also contribute this. Our main advantage is that we can farm where it is needed, thus reducing transportation processes. The majority of the fish meals come from the Peruvian coast and need to be transported globally”, he explains. These actions allow Aquanzo to have a minimal environmental footprint and by using environmental by-products it allows them to upcycle low value products into high value products.

 

Future goals of Aquanzo


Aquanzo is also looking and evaluating other regions around the world which have potential, such as Portugal, USA and African countries. They are looking at areas where their solution will have the most impact and makes to most sense. They aspire to have a global presence in the long-term.

“Owning farms worldwide and enabling farms to exist by sharing technology and supplying the strains of Artemia through our genetic programme”.

Despite the need for less ocean intensive aquafeed solutions, Aquanzo faces challenges in the scaling of their solution. “Scaling farming is one of the main challenges, we also need to develop a new business model. Both the process and the product side are challenges on their own. How do we scale to large volumes? And can we make a product that is beneficial enough at a cost of production interesting for farmers?”, he questions.


Personal outlook and advice


When asked, ‘are you an optimist or a pessimist when it comes to the future and climate change?’ Gratacap answers, “I am an optimist; I believe we have the tools and capacity to change. It is a question of getting it done. I am in favour of focussing on the opportunity to have an effect rather than what is going to prevent us from that.”


To young people who want to have a positive impact on the environment through the aquaculture industry, he says “Just try and make new companies. Spend your time looking for real problems. Do not do what society has done until now, we need to change practices and to do that you need an unbiased look. Do not get disheartened by people who tell you that nothing can be done.” Remi speaks here on personal experience with Aquanzo with people who told him that he could not do it. “This did not stop us”.

 

 

Remi Gratacap interviewed by Natalia Vasnier for The Conference Corner. Feature image provided by Remi Gratacap.


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