From time to time, the University confers honorary degrees on exceptionally distinguished people. This spring, the College of Agriculture, Life and Environmental Sciences honored Barbara Page, whose leadership in ocean conservation and longtime partnership with the college has helped move the needle in efforts to protect ecosystems and improve food security.
Page is the co-founder of the Anthropocene Institute – an incubator for new technologies in clean energy and marine conservation. Through its investment, innovation and advocacy for conservation, the Anthropocene Institute has supported high impact habitat restoration efforts working to address pollution and overfishing.
“One way to save the oceans is to save life within them,” Page said. “We focused on the tiny, little fish that sustain so many species including salmon, cod, and tuna. It turns out that these fish are in trouble and when we discovered that, we had to look at who was overfishing them and why.”
Fishmeal and fish oil originate from tiny forage fish, such as sardines, anchovies, and menhaden which form the base of marine ecosystems. Many forage fish are overfished to become ingredients in fish feed pellets, which support fisheries across the globe, but if forage fish wane, so do the whole ecosystems that are reliant upon them, Page explained.
“There's no telling what is going to happen if that occurs,” Page said. “So, we created the marine conservation fund at the University of Arizona.”
Page partnered with the Department of Environmental Sciences’ Kevin Fitzsimmons, who also serves as the Director of International Initiatives for the Division of Agriculture, Life & Veterinary Sciences, and Cooperative Extension. The two co-founded the Future of Fish Feed, or F3, with the idea of challenging the aquaculture feed industry to accelerate the replacement of fishmeal and fish oil in aquafeeds with non-marine-animal alternatives.
“Aquaculture is widely considered to be the most sustainable form of livestock farming, but the overuse of forage fishes to feed other fish is rightly a weakness,” Fitzsimmons said. “Addressing this to make for a more sustainable industry that then leaves more forage fish for whales, seabirds and larger predatory fishes is a win-win for everyone.”
The first challenge was announced in October 2015, with 16 contestants competing to be the first to sell 100,000 metric tons of aquaculture feed without using marine animal ingredients. According to the organization’s calculations, the first challenge saved 350 million forage fish from being used in aquaculture feed.
The second F3 challenge, the Fish Oil Challenge, was announced in 2017. The $200,000 prize was awarded to a company that sold the largest amount of a fish oil replacement derived from algae to the aquafeed industry. The contest resulted in over two billion forage fish being saved from use in feed.
A third contest, the Carnivore Challenge, has just begun and will work to prove that the largest consumers of fishmeal and fish oil, carnivorous species, can also thrive on fish-free feed.
“The F3 initiative has led to a sea change, excuse the pun, in the approach of the aquaculture industry towards innovative ingredients and aquafeeds,” said Shane Burgess, University of Arizona Vice President for the Division of Agriculture, Life and Veterinary Sciences, and Cooperative Extension and Charles-Sander Dean of the College of Agriculture, Life and Environmental Sciences. “As companies, farms and consumers recognize the ability to use more sustainable ingredients, billions of forage fishes will be left in the ocean to support the marine mammals, sea birds, and larger predatory fishes who prey upon them.”
New aquaculture feed ingredients will also enable aquaculture to weather supply chain fluctuations of these wild resources to better sustain our growing global population, Burgess explained.
“When we first started, many scientists told us it was not possible to create fish-free feeds that work for many species,” said Page, who attributes the success of the F3 challenge to the numerous funders, researchers, collaborators, and industry partners who supported the initiative.
“I receive this honor on behalf of many, many incredible people and organizations. It is our combined effort that created the spark,” Page said at the ceremony.