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About the Author

Luan Galani
Science & Development Journalist (Curitiba, Brazil)

A twenty-something eternal apprentice who has a passionate interest in what happens around him. Fascinated by the under-reported, he refuses to be a detached observer and never tires of exploring the untold. His long-life dream is reporting from conflict zones to dig up the underbelly side of war.


Voracious appetite for fish

Published 28th April 2010 - 6 comments - 6445 views -

Fully one-third (37% or 31.5 million tones a year) of the world's marine fish catches are ground up and fed to farm-raised fish, pigs and poultry. The catches are needlessly used as animal feed, instead of being put on have-nots’ tables. Specialists involved say that this squandering of forage fish – anchovies, sardines, menhaden, and other small or medium sized fish – is rapidly worsening the already serious overfishing crisis in the oceans. To change this cruel reality, a team of Brazilian researchers have come up with the most unlikely solution imaginable: micro-seaweeds.

(Trout image by Aaron Gustafson)

The fantastic tiny world of Lilliput created by the Irish author Jonathan Swift is getting down to come out the pages of Gulliver’s Travels. From tiny green seaweeds (micro), researchers of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (in the very south of Brazil) and Imcopa, the largest manufacturer and exporter company of non-genetically modified soybean in the world, based in Paraná state, are creating an oil rich in Omega-3s to put into the fishmeal of what is called noble species, like salmon, trout and cod, instead of using the fish oil from small fish. 

Up to now, large fishes obtain these fatty acids from the ration they eat, made from small fish like sardine, anchovy and manjubas. “To feed only one kilogramme of salmon, two kilogrammes of small fishes are needed”, exemplified Osires de Melo, coordinator of the study. Around the globe, noble fishes in aquatic farms – besides swines and birds, on a minor scale – consume more than the double of fish eaten by the Japanese and six times more than the Americans, according to the ‘Sea Around Us Project’ developed by the University of British Columbia, from Canada, with a non-governmental organization called ‘The Pew Charitable Trusts’.

Those small species are used because they have a small value in the market. But the drastic decrease of their stocks can affect the marine alimentary chain. Animals like seals and lion-marines, for instance, can be harmed. Executive director of the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science, Ellen K. Pikitch, said that skyrocketing pressure on small wild fishes may be putting entire marine food webs at great risk. "These small, tasty fish could instead feed people. Society should demand that we stop wasting these fish”, she claimed.

Five species of micro-seaweed, three of which are common on the Brazilian coast, are being meticulously studied. The other two sorts were not made public. The positive points are stunningly impressive. The fish capacity of digesting these green organisms is of 90% - no other food reaches this level. It decreases the amount and the toxicity of faeces thrown out in the environment. While one hectare of soybean gives us 600 litres of oil per year, one hectare of seaweed tanks (at an approximate depth of 30 cm to 40 cm) can produce at the same time even 120 thousand litres. Moreover, drinking water is saved due to the fact that micro seaweeds need only salt water to grow and reproduce themselves. These organisms also get carbon dioxide out of atmosphere in the photosynthesis process and release oxygen. Anyway, far from having a veneer of sustainability, it really makes a true clean system.

Fish farming has been practiced for hundreds of years, from Pre-Columbian fish traps in the Amazon basin to carp ponds on ancient Chinese farms. Today, the aquatic farms already answer for 40% of all of the fish, shrimps, oysters and mollusks consumed on a world-wide scale, and the tendency is to rise more. What would boost even more the necessary quantity of small fish to feed them if this study had not been brought up.

(Fish farms photo by Jeanie Mackinder)

Human consumption and hunger

The scientists also expect to enrich the oil soybean for human consumption with this fatty acids. Those substances play an essential role in human and fish nutrition. They have anti-inflammatory (good for achy joints) action and the overwhelming evidence that they help to reduce the risk of heart disease. The long-chain fatty acids also help the development of brain tissue, nerve growth and the retina in unborn babies.

According to the World Food Programme, which is the United Nations frontline agency in the fight against global hunger and the largest humanitarian organization, one in nearly seven people do not get enough food to be healthy. It is equivalent to 963 million people or to the huge approximate sum of populations from Sweden, Russia, Spain, Germany, France, the United States, Brazil, South Africa and South Korea. The Hunger and malnutrition are in fact the number one risk to the health worldwide — greater than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

Global hunger facts by WHO:

  • 1.02 billion people do not have enough to eat - more than the populations of USA, Canada and the European Union; 
  • The number of undernourished people in the world increased by 75 million in 2007 and 40 million in 2008, largely due to higher food prices; 
  • 907 million people in developing countries alone are hungry; 
  • Asia and the Pacific region is home to over half the world’s population and nearly two thirds of the world’s hungry people; 
  • More than 60 percent of chronically hungry people are women; 
  • 65 percent  of the world's hungry live in only seven countries: India, China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan and Ethiopia. 

(Click above to enlarge)

If people had a better grasp of this fact, they would realize that what we are effectively doing is cutting these precious underwater environments with our appetite for fish – then perhaps many would seriously reconsider eating noble species so freely from the sea.

All these points together make this project one sustainable and very welcome alternative.


  • Lara Smallman on 29th April 2010:

    Check out the End of the Line:

  • Giedre Steikunaite on 29th April 2010:

    Luan, how widespread this initiative would be?

  • Luan Galani on 30th April 2010:

    @ Thanks for the interesting link, Lara. Thanks a lot. That’s a big problem over which the international community as a whole is dragging its heels. We definitely have to wake for this.

    @ Giedre, that is when all problems begin to bubble. Imcopa is a heavyweight business company and like all of this sort, I do not think they will give it for free, spreading the know-how. They wanna sell only. Simply as that. Anyway, besides being restricted, I strongly believe it is a step forward, at least a beginning (now we know there is another option, another path to take). Most noble fish farmers will not spend more money on microseaweeds when they ‘can’ continue giving small fish. But their mentality has to change, both the company and the farmers’. When I have more some info about that I will tell you all. For now the research has not been finished.

  • fish oil on 24th June 2010:

    Fishes are mostly killed because of their fish oil.Eating two servings of oily fish per week may halt the progression of a major cause of blindness in the elderly.

  • Luan Galani on 23rd August 2010:

    Hi Mr. Fisherman,

    Glad you liked it. Thanks.

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