The additive, known as Novaq, took Australian researchers at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) more than ten years to develop, and could mean that sustainably farmed prawns will soon taste better and grow to larger sizes.
Researchers from CSIRO explained that farmed prawns that are fed with the new additive grow on average 30% faster, are healthier and can be produced with no fish products in their diet - something they claim is a world-first achievement in sustainability.
"We fed Novacq to black tiger prawns, and it made them even better for consumers, the environment and prawn farmers," said Dr Nigel Preston of the CSIRO, who has been working with the Australian prawn farming industry for over 25 years, and says the development of the additive is 'a game changer' for the industry.
"This is a major achievement," said Preston. "Prawns fed this diet are not only a top quality product and reach market size faster, they also no longer need to be fed with any products from wild fishery resources."
Until now, prawn farmers have needed to feed their prawns with a pellet that includes some sustainably sourced fish meal or fish oil, in order to ensure that the prawns grew fast, and were a healthy and high quality product for consumers.
Including the Novacq feed in the diet of farmed prawns has shown for the first time that fish meal and fish oil can be completely replaced in the prawn diet - potentially freeing the prawn aquaculture industry from reliance on wild fishery resources.
CSIRO said that the Novacq feed additive is an entirely natural food source that microbes which are the foundation of the marine food pyramid. The researchers discovered how to feed and harvest them, and convert them into a product that can then be added to feeds as a bioactive ingredient - like a dietary supplement for prawns, said the CSIRO.
The controlled production of these marine microbes is based on more than ten years of CSIRO research to understand the natural marine microbial processes that occur in prawn farm ponds and natural marine estuaries, and the role of microbes in prawn nutrition.
"When we are talking about relieving pressure on our ocean stocks of fish, every little bit helps," explained Preston. "Novacq will mean that the Australian prawn farming industry could potentially no longer be reliant on wild-caught fishery products."
The feed product has been licensed to production and distribution by Ridley AgriProducts in Australia and several South-East Asian countries.
"We are really excited to now be able to start the process of commercialising Novacq," said Bob Harvey, general manager for Aquafeed at Ridley. "Over the next twelve months we will be upscaling production, performing additional tests and further farm-scale trials, and then to move into full-scale commercial production."