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Global Aquaculture: Betting on a fly

‘Magmeal’: A new source of protein for fish farms?

By Lauren Kramer
March 05, 2012

Any fly fisherman will tell you that fish will gladly eat flies. So why are aquaculture farms feeding them fishmeal, particularly when costs continue to skyrocket? When Jason Drew and his brother, David, founded AgriProtein in the village of Tulbagh, South Africa, in 2009, their primary objective was to reduce and eventually eliminate the use of fishmeal in industrial farming by substituting it with what they call “magmeal,” or fly larvae.

In its test facility in Tulbagh, the Drew brothers and their team purchased a colony of musca domestica, the common house fly, and created a fly farm, feeding the flies on waste nutrients that local abattoirs (slaughterhouses) paid them to take away. The company’s first two years were full of trial and error as it conducted R&D.

“We needed to cram the industrialization of fly farming into a few short years and we nearly gave up several times,” says Jason Drew.

The fly farm has 22 cages, each one holding up to 750,000 flies. Learning how much water to provide the flies was one challenge, he says. “Flies need water but drown remarkably easily, so we had to find out how to provide enough of a drinking surface for them to have the water they needed.”

Another obstacle was getting the flies to lay their eggs in one place and learning how to grow fly larvae.

Fortunately for the company the growth rate for flies when their natural predators are eliminated is nothing short of explosive. One female fly will lay between 750 and 1,200 eggs in the space of five days. “That means each fly can multiply to over 1,000 in a few weeks, and within a month, you can get a billion flies from one fly,” he says. The larvae grow in weight over 420 times in a few days.

The cost of creating the fly farm and investing in R&D has exceeded $1 million to date, Drew says. But the result has been the production of sufficient larvae to dry into larval meal and “produce the protein content for a balanced diet of whatever particular species we’re looking to feed,” he says.

“We’ve done animal trials to assess take-on weight of magmeal versus fishmeal, and unsurprisingly, the magmeal performed better than its alternatives because it’s more nutritious and natural,” he says. The product contains 16 amino acids including the nine essential amino acids.

Researchers from Idaho State University and the University of Georgia studied the viability of fly prepupae as a partial fishmeal and fish oil replacement for rainbow trout in 2007 and gave it a thumbs up.

AgriProtein intends to provide fish farmers with fly larvae in a powdered format. The farmer will mix it with other required nutrients to create a balanced diet. Magmeal can be used as a protein substitute for fishmeal that would also be more competitively priced, Drew says.

The price of fishmeal has increased steadily over the past decade. According to Indexmundi.com, a metric ton of fishmeal cost $618.96 in December 2001. In November 2011, its price had reached $1,402.34, and Drew predicts it will continue to rise.

Drew co-authored “The Protein Crunch” with David Lorimer in June 2011 by Print Matters Planet, in which he discussed how resource depletion and environmental destruction have driven food prices ever higher. It asks: Can science come to the rescue or will we revert to our traditional approach and fight over our remaining resources? 

AgriProtein has a larvae protein output of 2 tons per week. Over the past few months, the company has developed the design of an industrial plant that will produce large quantities required by the farming industry — up to 100 tons of wet larvae per day, which translates into 28 tons of dry larvae. The first plant will be located in the Western Cape of South Africa, but the company also has orders for plants in Saudi Arabia and Germany. Its goal now is to find investing partners to build those plants.

“If we can’t make large volumes, this isn’t worth doing,” Drew says. 

Contributing Editor Lauren Kramer lives in British Columbia
 March 2012 - SeaFood Business


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