Catfish Farming Takes a Green Turn with New Plant-Based Diet

January 8, 2024

Catfish, a delicious and healthy seafood option, has long been a favourite on dinner plates. Its low-calorie content, high protein value, and essential nutrients like vitamin B12 and omega-3 make it a guilt-free choice for health-conscious consumers, benefiting both body and mind.

Beyond its nutritional value, catfish farming is a thriving industry providing vital economic opportunities for diverse communities. This industry encompasses catfish cultivation, processing, and distribution, sustaining jobs and livelihoods for countless individuals. It plays a pivotal role in supporting the livelihoods of many within the catfish industry.

In the vibrant aquaculture landscape of Southeast Asia, the stinging catfish (Heteropneustes fossilis) has emerged as a commercially significant species. However, traditional fish meal, a staple in feeding these catfish, faces mounting challenges. Researchers are diligently working to discover better and healthier food options for these aquatic creatures.

Recognising the limitations of conventional fish meal (FM) as a feed ingredient for stinging catfish, Professor Dr Goh Khang Wen from INTI International University, in collaboration with a team including Professor Dr Muhamad Anamul Kabir from Sylhet Agricultural University in Bangladesh, Dr Zulhisyam Abdul Kari and Dr Lee Seong Wei from the Faculty of Agro-Based Industry at Universiti Malaysia Kelantan, and Wendy Wee from Universiti Malaysia Terengganu, embarked on a mission to transform the way we nourish stinging catfish.

Their primary focus was to assess the dietary impact of fermented water spinach meal (FWM) on female stinging catfish’s growth and reproductive performance in aquaculture. This research was driven by the increasing interest in developing alternative plant-based feed ingredients to address the challenges posed by traditional animal-derived sources like fish meal. Despite being regarded as the gold standard for broodstock reproductive development, fish meal has its issues, including inadequate supply, soaring costs, and variable quality, making it imperative to explore sustainable alternatives.

According to Prof Dr Goh, “Fish meal (FM) is considered the best animal-derived fish feed ingredient and protein source for broodstock reproductive development. Challenges like scarcity, high costs, and variable quality drive the need to replace fish meals with plant-based alternatives.”

The study meticulously evaluated the effects of replacing fish meal with fermented water spinach on the reproductive performance, egg quality, and overall health of female stinging catfish broodstock. Professor Dr Goh Khang Wen elaborated, “Our comprehensive analysis involved examining the fatty acid profile, conducting physical, biochemical, and bacteriological studies on diets featuring fermented water spinach meal.”

He added, “Furthermore, haematological and biochemical assays, along with an exploration of gut morphology in broods of stinging catfish, aimed to elucidate the potential of fermented water spinach meal as a viable fish meal replacement.”
Based on the reproductive parameters and health status of female broodstock in this study, it was concluded that 50% fermented water spinach dietary inclusion enhanced the reproductive performance of farmed stinging catfish.
Prof Dr Goh remarked, “Our research offers valuable insights into using innovative plant-based proteins, like water spinach, as a cost-effective component for producing nutritious fish feed.”

This groundbreaking study revolutionises catfish farming and highlights the significance of using novel plant-based proteins like water spinach to create sustainable, healthy fish feed. It represents a significant stride towards making fish farming eco-friendly and more sustainable, emphasising the importance of transitioning from traditional fish feed to plant-based alternatives. Once a humble ingredient, water spinach is now pivotal in shaping the future of stinging catfish farming, ensuring its long-term success.

Professor Dr Goh Khang Wen and a team of researchers have found that novel plant-based proteins, such as water spinach, are cost-effective feed ingredients for producing healthy fish feed.