Check out the detailed list written by research technician Rolf Egil Myrmel! They are all ingredients that are included in every tiny pellet of salmon feed, which in this case is produced at Nofima’s Aquafeed Technology Centre (ATC).
“I have been involved in an incredible number of analyses over the years”, laughs the 62-year-old, who has worked on the development of salmon feed since the industry’s youth in the 1970s.
Today, Nofima’s Rolf Egil Myrmel is best known as ‘salmon’s super-chef’.
A constant stream of new ingredients
Column by column, line by line, they are all neatly listed. When implementing the list of ingredients and quantities for current feed production, the recipe has to be accurate right down to the nearest milligram. And please don’t think that this list is complete and that the final version of salmon feed has been determined once and for all.
“New things are being tested all the time. There are constant streams of new ingredients and new processes being tested on small, medium and large scales. There has to be the right mix of fats and proteins to produce top-quality fish. Consistency is everything. Good feed improves both growth and health of the fish”, says the research technician.
The mission throughout his professional career has always been the same: Utilise the raw material in the best possible manner and contribute to improving processes in the industry. Pretty much the same as Nofima continues to do at ATC today.
ATC is a feed technology centre hosted by Nofima at the research station in Kjerreidviken in Bergen.
Feed has the greatest environmental footprint
Getting enough and the right food for farmed fish is not without its challenges. The staff at ATC in Bergen do not only conduct research on salmon feed. They also work with food for cod, crabs, sea urchins and other farmed species.
Collaboration between different research communities and bridging the gap between research and industry are therefore essential for an ever-growing industry to develop sustainably in terms of both the environment and animal welfare.
Sustainable feed is one of the major priority areas in the Government’s long-term plan for research and higher education. It is about ensuring that all feed for livestock and farmed fish comes from sustainable sources. The industry is growing, and access to necessary feed sources is not developing at the same rate. Those who develop feed for the aquaculture industry must then use new ingredients.
“Feed has the greatest environmental footprint in all food production. It is simply a bad idea not to think about sustainability in feed production. And it is a correspondingly good idea to become as self-sufficient as possible when it comes to feed ingredients”, says Rolf Egil Myrmel.
The recipe for the ‘feed chef’ and his colleagues at the feed technology centre includes marine oil with a high content of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, vegetable ingredients from plants such as wheat, soy, rapeseed, sunflower, beans and maize, fishmeal produced from rest raw materials from the whitefish industry, vitamins, minerals, pigments, the antioxidant astaxanthin and many more.
“What kind of ingredients are these new ones?”
“Soldier fly larvae and other insects, microalgae, tunicates, mussels and single-cell proteins. New processes are being tested all the time. We ask ourselves how they work, what we get out of them, how much processing is needed before the ingredient in question can become feed, and so on.”
Less for pets – more for humans?
New sources of raw materials are therefore absolutely necessary, and Myrmel and many others believe we need to harvest more feed ingredients from the sea.
“We need to find methods that make it cost-effective. It takes huge amounts of microalgae to achieve useable volumes. It is always about the proteins. Single-cell proteins from wood and grass may be alternatives. Maybe we need to look at how we prioritise feed raw materials”, says Myrmel, and dares to be a little controversial by adding:
“It may seem like we make an awful lot of fish feed in Norway, but compared to the global volume used for pet food, it’s nothing. Perhaps more of the ingredients in the future will be used in feed for animals, which in turn are used for human consumption – in other words, food for humans?”
“Is it true, as many people claim, that salmon feed is full of antibiotics and other medications?”
The salmon chef replies without a second’s hesitation:
“No! If there is anything at all, it is an incredibly small amount, and only in special productions if a facility has special challenges with its fish. To a great extent, all salmon are currently vaccinated to be resistant to most things before they are released into net-pens at sea. Medicine isn’t required in the feed.”
“But it takes incredibly large amounts of feed to produce one kilogram of salmon?”
“That is another myth. In the past – many years ago – ten kilos of feed could be used to produce one kilogram of salmon. But with research and development, the right amount of different substances has been found, so that the thing we call the feed factor is currently at 1.3. This means that 1.3 kilograms of feed are needed to produce 1.0 kilogram of salmon on a commercial scale”, says Rolf Egil Myrmel.
“Does a research technician think about the environmental footprint and sustainability on a day-to-day basis?”
“All the time. Both at work and during leisure time. There is of course a lot that is wasted in the research work we do, but optimal utilisation of resources is, and always has been, the goal in everything we do. Even though more and more is being utilised, there are still enormous quantities of raw materials from whitefish that are not landed and exploited. Large quantities end up straight back in the ocean, even though they could have been utilised for feed production.”
The extruder. The research technician gives it a loving pat as we approach. The big machine is the thing that makes the feed pellets. It is the very heart of the centre for research-based development. Countless hours are spent compiling the right quantities for the right processes.
“The extruder mixes all the ingredients that need to be in the feed into a large mass or dough. The extruder transports the mass through the machine, which can be configured according to the feed texture or pellet size one requires. It is mixed, kneaded, crushed and shaped so that it comes out of the nozzle as pellets in the size you have decided. Both mechanical energy and thermal energy – heat – are used to achieve this.”
In the ‘dough’, ingredients such as fish meal, soy, wheat gluten and carefully measured amounts of vitamins, minerals and amino acids are mixed to get the right balance. In many ways, fish feed is considerably more balanced than the food we eat.
“What characterises good fish feed?”
“That it has the correct composition, so that the fish grow as they should and keep healthy. It must also be of the right technical quality and durability. The feed must be able to withstand transport and handling before it reaches the fish, and then the fish must also be able to digest it and absorb the nutrients. There should be room for the right amount of oil in the pellet. If it becomes too dry, it floats and is not eaten, and if it becomes too porous, the oil seeps out before the fish get to eat the pellet. We really don’t want that to happen!”
There are often six different diets that are tested to find the right feed composition. In addition, it can be vacuum coated for the addition of attractants – appetizers – that make the fish want to eat it.
“It’s unfortunate about all the things that don’t work along the way?”
“Yes, but that is what research is all about. Test, document, move on with what seems to be working, and cross out the stuff that obviously doesn’t work. That is how development takes place.”
What does it take to achieve a good life?
Actually, the intention was to become a cabinetmaker, like many others in his family, but instead he went to vocational school and got a craft certificate in laboratory science. In 1979, at the age of 18, he got a job at Analyselab, and the following year he continued his career at the R&D laboratory at SSF – The Herring Oil and Herring Meal Industry Research Institute.
“I have travelled all around Northern and Central Norway conducting trials. Vadsø, Tromsø, Lovund, Bjugn. The task was to find new preservation methods for herring and capelin instead of using formalin, which was common at the time. We tried lactic acid bacteria and molasses. It was never a success. In controlled trials, there is a lot of stuff that just has to be put in a drawer and forgotten”, says Rolf Egil Myrmel.
He sometimes regretted his career choice:
“Hmm, yes! Working on the preservation of large quantities of fish at different stages of spoilage smells. A lot. Sometimes I thought it was going to affect my health”, he laughs with a grimace.
However, the days of rotting fish at work are long gone. It is both clean and fresh in the production halls at ATC.
“Why have you stayed here so long?”
“I have wondered about that myself. Many times. But then there are all these people with different backgrounds and different skills, who figure things out together. The questions are always; what does it take to achieve a good life. For us and for the fish. What should the fish eat? What should we eat?”
“In addition to the job being varied and developmental, there is great social cohesion at Nofima and ATC. We have different expertise and different approaches to challenges, ideas and functionality. We collaborate well in order to make things work”, says the research technician.