Evaluation of organically certifiable alternate protein sources for production of the marine carnivore, cobia (Rachycentron canadum)

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Virginia Tech


Cobia represents one of the most attractive candidate species for aquaculture in the history of the industry. With rapid growth rate, high survival rates, and delectable flesh, cobia possess highly desirable characteristics for a cultured fish. Although interest in this species is high, issues pertaining to nutritional requirements must be resolved if this animal is to be produced sustainably. Cobia are high level marine carnivores and, as such, require relatively high dietary protein levels which usually are met through the use of fish meal. Fish meal supplies have become limited and costly, and alternate proteins must be utilized if future aquaculture production is to meet demand. Moreover, the movement towards organic aquaculture production presents additional challenges with respect to fish meal inclusion in aquafeeds designed for cobia. This thesis summarizes research pertaining to fish meal replacement in cobia aquafeeds with organically certifiable alternate protein sources.

Initial trials with an organically certifiable yeast-based protein source indicated that up to 25% of the fish meal could be replaced without detrimental impacts to growth rates, feed efficiency, or biological indices. Substitution levels above this resulted in decreased performance in all measured parameters. Based on these results and other research however, it is hypothesized that fish meal replacement levels could be increased to 40% without detrimental impacts upon production characteristics.

In a subsequent study, multiple organically certifiable alternate protein sources were investigated for their ability to replace fish meal in aquafeeds for juvenile cobia. A 25% inclusion level of yeast-based protein was used along with a 40% inclusion level. The remaining alternate proteins (soybean meal, soybean isolate, and hemp) also were included at 40% of dietary protein. Two additional diets were formulated to contain all four alternate proteins with or without 8% fish meal. Lack of fish meal resulted in poor survival, while the 8% inclusion of fish meal resulted in decreased overall performance compared to fish fed the fish meal control and the diets with up to 40% organic protein source. When included at 40% of fish meal replacement, these alternate protein sources led to returned excellent weight gain, feed efficiencies, and other production characteristics when compared to the 100% fish meal control diet. I hypothesized that higher inclusion level of alternate protein sources could be achieved with specific amino acid supplementation.

Two additional trials involved the use of the yeast-based protein with supplementation by the amino acids methionine, tryptophan, and taurine. Diets containing 50 and 75% of the yeast-based protein were investigated with the addition of methionine (0.3%) and tryptophan (0.2%), with and without taurine (0.5%). Taurine significantly and dramatically increased production performance. A final trial re-evaluated that ability of the yeast-based protein to completely replace fish meal with supplemental taurine (0.5%). While growth at the 50% inclusion level equaled that of the control, at higher levels (75 and 100%), growth was reduced even with taurine supplementation, leading to the hypothesis that other essential amino acids may also have been limiting.

This thesis presents evidence that replacement of fish meal, as well as organic production of cobia, is feasible. However, these studies also illustrate the necessity of developing quantitative amino acid requirement data for cobia if these goals are to be fully realized.



Cobia, fish meal, Rachycentron canadum, alternate proteins, organic