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Krill meal: a powerful and reliable ally for aquafeed formulations

Blog overview

One of aquaculture’s major concerns is to deliver high-quality products for human consumption. The diet given to farmed fish and shrimp must contain all the essential nutrients to deliver healthy animal products to consumers. However, the current aquaculture industry is facing a challenging quest: reducing and even removing fish-based products from aquafeeds while keeping nutritional quality and feed performance. Shifting from fish meal-based diets to plant-based or alternative protein and lipid sources has proven to be an arduous task. 

The solution can rely on krill meal, a powerful supplement produced from Antarctic krill. But why is krill so appealing for aquafeeds?

The secret of krill meal is its unique blend of proteins, lipids, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. This makes it an ideal feed additive to fill the nutritional gaps of more sustainable plant-based or alternative animal diets.


Small size, big potential

Krill is a tiny crustacean with a rich nutritional profile that includes high levels of vital macromolecules such as proteins and lipids. More specifically, krill meal contains up to 60% of proteins with a well-balanced amino acid profile and small, easily digestible amino acid chains. It is also high in lipids (around 25%), especially omega-3 fatty acids.

Moreover, krill meal is rich in essential micronutrients such as vitamins A, D, and E, which help protect against stress, and phosphatidylcholine, which supplies choline. Choline is a vital vitamin-like nutrient involved in the transfer of information between neurons, digestion, and maintaining the balance between water and dissolved materials or osmoregulation. Krill meal is also rich in trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), which also contributes to osmoregulation. This way, both compounds can support a low-stress transition of fish between freshwater and marine environments. Moreover, TMAO is a strong feed attractant and can improve the low palatability of diets containing vegetable proteins and/or antibiotics. 

Krill meal also contains astaxanthin, which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, chitin and other feed attractants, and high levels of nucleotides, which are the fundamental building blocks of genetic material. These components increase the attractability and palatability of the feed, reducing the leaching of nutrients and feed wastage, ultimately decreasing nutrient pollution, feed costs, and time spent cleaning.

The science that supports the hype

The balanced nutritional profile of krill meal and its feed attractants make it an ideal feed additive. Krill meal-supplemented diets enhance disease resistance, innate immunity, growth, efficient feed conversion, diet digestibility, and energy production of aquaculture species. Indeed, these benefits have been observed in a wide range of farmed species, from fish to shrimp.

For instance, in fish (i.e. Atlantic Salmon, the large yellow croaker, seabream, and Atlantic halibut), the high levels of omega-3 fatty acids in krill meal-supplemented feeds have been related to increased growth and survival. The inclusion of krill meal even allowed reducing the levels of fish meal whilst continuing to support the growth and performance of Atlantic salmon and rainbow trout. Krill meal also enhanced the palatability of plant-based feeds, as observed in white leg shrimp, which preferred krill meal-supplemented plant-based feeds compared to other marine-based diets, resulting in enhanced shrimp yield.

Still, the understanding of the molecular processes behind the beneficial effects of krill meal remains limited. A recent study in giant tiger prawn shows that components from krill meal-supplemented aquafeeds stimulate immunity and influence key metabolic pathways for energy use from carbohydrates, fats, and protein. More specifically, krill meal diets positively impacted pathways involved in energy metabolism, resulting in positive energy production and higher metabolic capacity. Ultimately, these metabolic effects, which might be common across many aquaculture species, could explain the observed improved performance.

Overall, the powerful and unique natural blend of a rich protein and lipid profile, mixed with chitin, astaxanthin, vitamins, nucleotides, and other feed attractants make krill meal an exciting feed ally for farmers to improve production and cope with stressful farming conditions while improving animal well-being and farming sustainability.