Aquaculturalists exploring use soybeans as alternative to fishmeal


PIKETON, Ohio — A new project that links Ohio’s No. 1 fish species with a key field crop could lead to greater sustainability of the state’s aquaculture industry while developing new, local agricultural markets.

Ohio State University aquaculturists with OSU South Centers at Piketon are exploring the feasibility of using soybeans as an alternative to fishmeal, and plan to test the new fishfood product on yellow perch.

The project is supported by a one-year $50,000 Ohio Soybean Council grant, with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center providing a $50,000 match.


If successful, soy-based fishmeal and soybean oil would be an answer to declining fishmeal production, said Han-Ping Wang, director of the Ohio Aquaculture Research and Development Integration Program, and the university’s principal investigator.

“The aquaculture industry demands 25 percent of the global fishmeal supply and 36 percent of the global fish oil supply, but fishmeal production is decreasing because of the decline of ocean fish used to make the product,” said Wang. “As a result, we see a great potential for us to use soybeans as a replacement due to its high protein content.”

Wang said that currently 54 out of 358 cultured fish species are fed diets containing soybean meal or soy products, and with around 1,000 more fish under evaluation as new aquaculture species, opportunities abound for researching and evaluating soybeans as a viable fish feed.

Three project objectives

Wang and his colleagues Geoff Wallat and Laura Tiu are focusing on three project objectives: to determine if genetically improved yellow perch reared on soybean meal-based diets perform just as well as those on fish meal diets and assess whether sufficient genetic variation exists for selective breeding; determine if soybean meal-based diets are suitable for spotfin shiners, a popular baitfish; and develop and implement educational programs and promotional materials designed to promote the growth of the aquaculture industry in Ohio.

Yellow perch

Yellow perch is the top aquaculture species in Ohio and the state ranks first in the nation in the number of pounds of yellow perch sold.

“We are trying to achieve the same growth rate, or a better performance, and increase feeding efficiency with perch raised on soybean meal through genetic selection,” said Wang. “If successful, we can develop superior yellow perch at a lower cost than if we used fishmeal.”

Like yellow perch, researchers are also trying to develop Ohio’s baitfish industry more economically and efficiently. Ohio ranks fourth in the nation in sales of baitfish, with the spotfin shiner being targeted as the baitfish of choice in the study.

Last year researchers successfully developed indoor spawning protocols for the spotfin shiner and produced juvenile spotfins for the market. The hope is that the spotfin shiner can be an alternative to the emerald shiner, a common Lake Erie baitfish.


Wang is confident that the chosen aquaculture species will perform well with soybean meal-based diets through genetic improvement. The final step is disseminating the information to Ohio fish farmers.

Next spring, researchers plan to organize a bus tour to multiple aquaculture operations in Ohio to educate soybean and fish farmers and other stakeholders on incorporating an agricultural product into the aquaculture industry.

Ohio’s aquaculture industry has exploded over the past decade, increasing from $1.8 million in 1997 to $6.6 million in 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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