Finding novel uses for undervalued marine products

The Fish Site
by The Fish Site
10 January 2022, at 12:01am

Underutilised aquaculture products - including lumpfish - and invasive species could be more profitable, according to a team of European scientists.

Runar Gjerp Solstad and Kjersti Lian
Runar Gjerp Solstad and Kjersti Lian

© Lars Ake Andersen, Nofima

The BlueCC project aims to extract valuable products, such as collagen and chitin, from novel marine sources. The market for these ingredients is enormous, especially for collagen. The collagen market alone is valued at about $8.6 billion worldwide, according to Forbes.

Nofima leads the BlueCC project, in which a team of scientists extract collagen and chitin - natural biopolymers that are often used in cosmetics and dietary supplements - from invasive species that appear in European waters or end up as by-catch from commercial fishing. They also aim to find a way to exploit lumpfish, which are used as cleanerfish in salmon aquaculture but have to be discarded when the salmon are harvested.

Nofima’s Runar Gjerp Solstad is leading the project and explains that the aim is twofold.

“We have taken a more consumer-driven approach to this research. This means that we are conducting surveys to identify consumer demand and can adjust our research accordingly,” said Solstad in a press relase. “We will then try to extract collagen and chitin from marine by-products using more sustainable methods”.

BlueCC has eight partners from six different countries and has been allocated funding of €2 million from the BlueBio Cofund. Seven academic partners and a Norwegian industrial partner are involved in the project, which runs until the autumn of 2023.

“We find that research becomes a more democratic process when you actually check what consumers need and want,” said Themis Altintzoglou, a market researcher at Nofima.

Last year, he conducted a survey that involved over 1,000 consumers in the UK. The aim was to map the demand for potential products containing collagen or chitosan deriving from specific marine species.

“Putting the consumer first is a bit unique in this type of research. Using market research as a key part of the development process is also new. The way market researchers ask questions enables them to identify what the consumer wants and needs,” said Solstad.

After the survey results are analysed, it is possible to make informed strategies for product development and research.

“We already have a very exciting lead that we have started to follow. It may increase our chances of success with new products,” Solstad revealed.

Environmental focus

According to Solstad the project also has significant green ambitions. In addition to using underutilised marine resources, the team of scientists will also adopt more sustainable extraction methods.

“Collagen and chitin are insoluble in water. Therefore, a lot of acids or alkalis is required to extract the raw material. We want to opt for more environmentally friendly chemicals, and right now we are looking at using a special strain of bacteria for extraction purposes”, he explained.

This special strain of bacteria is found at research partner IME Fraunhofer in Germany. They hope it can be the key to a more sustainable extraction of chitin.

“Exceptionally ambitious”

Solstad admits that the research funders expressed concern that the project was trying out too many things at the same time.

“They stated that we were exceptionally ambitious. But I think that it is all too common for people to not be ambitious enough, to be surer of their success,” he said.

“We are going to find new methods for turning marine bio-waste into by-products and make prototypes for new and eco-friendly products. We believe that pushing oneself to explore something new is valuable in itself,” he added.