What should farmed king salmon eat? A New Zealand-led, $5.2 million research project aims to find out

An international research team will spend five years working out the optimum food to feed king salmon

A group of government and fishing industry organisations will spend $5.2 million on research to try and find out what the best food is to feed king salmon.

The aim is to find a sustainable diet for salmon, and thereby eventually reduce the environmental footprint of salmon farming in New Zealand.

Salmon fishing exports are worth over $240 million, and by 2025 the industry would like to have a sustainable billion dollar business.

Half of the money for the five-year project will come from the Government through Seafood Innovations Ltd (SIL), a research partnership supported by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. The other half is being funded by commercial interests – Nelson-based New Zealand King Salmon, Danish feed producer BioMar, Nelson's Cawthron Institute and the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology.

Ruben Alvarez, chief operating engineer at New Zealand King Salmon says his company spearheaded the project.

"It was obvious that if we didn't drive this research it would not happen."

The main aim of the “world-first” study is to be able to develop a high quality, species-specific feed, he says, which should improve on the generic products currently available.

"I came to New Zealand with a background in farming other salmon and trout species around the world and was prepared to apply that knowledge to growing salmon here.

"However I immediately realised we were lacking detailed dietary information on king salmon. Although the unique qualities of the king salmon are an advantage for us in our sales and marketing activity, it also means that information based on the nutritional needs of the more common species are not always applicable and R&D for king salmon is not a broader industry priority.  

"By improving the diet you can reduce the footprint."

SIL general manager Mike Mandeno agrees.

"While New Zealand is already widely acknowledged as the world’s most sustainable [salmon fishing industry], we would expect the research to deliver even greater advantages in this area.

“A king salmon-specific feed would also have commercial benefits for New Zealand producers in terms of exports, job creation and ultimately the profitability of the industry.”

Researchers will come from Europe and South America, as well as New Zealand, bringing skills in specialist feeds, fish nutrition and health.”