Camelina sativa, or false flax, is a hardy oilseed plant that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, protein and antioxidants. This super-nutritious plant is used as a vegetable oil for human consumption and as an ingredient or supplement in some animal feeds. Fish feed manufacturers have also explored the use of crop-based oilseeds like camelina as viable and cost-efficient substitutes for wild-sourced fish oils and proteins currently used in fish feeds.
A recently completed large-scale study of camelina oil managed by Genome Atlantic with support from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA)’s Atlantic Innovation Fund, found camelina to be an excellent match to the fatty acid composition required in the diets of farmed fish. Backed by this compelling evidence, Genome Atlantic applied to the CFIA for approval of camelina oil for use in fish feeds.
“Genome Atlantic and its partners have transformed a tiny seed into a big opportunity, creating an innovative, alternative solution with long-term benefits to industry,” said the Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development and Minister responsible for ACOA.
Aquaculture scientist Dr Chris Parrish of Memorial University, one of the study’s principal researchers, says that camelina oil has characteristics that make it a particularly promising alternative in fish diets.
“Among the oils that can be used to replace fish oil in aquafeeds, camelina is one of the few with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. While these omega-3 fatty acids are different to those present in fish oils, they enhance the ability of fish to synthesize the healthful long-chain omega-3 fatty acids that are needed for their optimal growth. This, in turn, ensures a healthful fillet for human consumers,” said Dr Parrish.
Another of the study’s principal researchers, Dr Claude Caldwell of Dalhousie University, explains that the scientists found camelina oil to be sufficiently nutritious to replace all the fish oil in feeds, as well as some of the ground fish meal. “The use of wild-sourced fish to feed the farmed fish is not sustainable either ecologically or economically. Camelina could be a viable alternative,” he said. Considering that aquaculture companies spend 50 to 70 percent of their budgets on feed, finding a high-quality, lower cost source of oil could mean significant savings.
While the CFIA’s recent approval only covers camelina oil, Dr Caldwell and his Dalhousie team are currently conducting feeding trials for the CFIA on camelina meal. “Camelina meal can’t entirely replace fish meal used in fish feeds, but it could replace some of that meal,” he said.
Opening up GM potential?
Scientists at Rothamsted Research in the UK, who have succeeded in producing a genetically modified (GM) strain of camelina that contains high levels of the long chain omega-3s EPA and DHA believe it could – in the long run – help to pave the way for the use of GM camelina in fish feeds.
As Professor Johnathan Napier, who leads the GM camelina research, told The Fish Site: “From our perspective, I believe that it is a positive step forward that conventional, unmodified camelina oil is approved for use as a salmon feed ingredient, though of course that particular oil will lack the critical long chain omega-3s EPA and DHA which we have engineered into our GM camelina. Anything that increases the visibility of camelina in general, either to farmers or to the aquafeed industry, is a positive step forward. It is interesting to note that the same academic consortium is interested in getting approval for inclusion of camelina seed meal in salmon diets, and this would also be something we would be pleased to see.”
Camelina is grown in many parts of the world, including North America. Dr Caldwell suggests camelina could be a good rotation crop for potatoes, making it a potentially viable option for farmers in Maritime Canada. “There are about 200,000 acres of potatoes planted in this region. Camelina could be a successful rotation crop that could open new markets for farmers while making the aquaculture industry healthier and more sustainable,” said Dr Caldwell.
The Camelina Project also received support from The Research and Development Corporation of Newfoundland and Labrador (RDC), the provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, the University of Saskatchewan, Memorial University, Dalhousie University, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Minas Seeds, Cooke Aquaculture, and Genome Prairie.