The company today announced the commencement of a research agreement with Mississippi State University in order to complete the development of its product, as well as conduct taste and quality tests for fish fed with the insect protein.
According to the firm's president Ernest Papadoyianis, Neptune Industries' patent-pending Ento-Protein would be a sustainable source of protein to replace fish meal, which is currently made from rapidly declining ocean species such as anchovies, sardines and menhaden.
Neptune Industries said its product, which is expected to be on the market within the next year, will initially target organic and natural fish production before moving into the mainstream seafood market.
Fears about reduced global fish stocks have escalated in recent years. A report published last year in the Science journal claimed that all seafood stocks around the world may collapse by 2050 if fishing continues at its current rate.
The collapse, which would see more than 90 per cent of all wild seafood that is currently fished disappear, would destroy both ecosystems and fishing economies. The findings pile intense pressure on industry and governments to create a more sustainable production chain.
Neptune Industries believes its product comes at a crucial time to help address the issue.
The firm will be working with three divisions of Mississippi State University: the etymology department, to identify insect species most suited for the production of Ento-Protein; the aquaculture department, which will conduct feeding and growth rate tests on fish fed with the new protein; and the food science department, which will conduct taste tests to identify any differences in the taste or quality of fish reared on the new diet.
Once all tests have been completed successfully, the firm will move ahead with the construction of full-scale manufacturing facilities to develop the product, and expects it to be available within 12 months.
According to Papadoyianis, Ento-Protein will be a major breakthrough for the fish industry, which is not only faced with a supply shortage for bate fish, but has also been slapped with fish meal price increases at a time when demand - for both meal and fish - is on the up.
Neptune Industries also expects its product will play a key role in the market for organic fish. In a climate of increasing interest in organic products, organic fish production has remained an area of uncertainty. Last week, the National Organic Standards Board issued recommendations that fish raised on fish meal-based aquaculture diets be excluded from US Organic Aquaculture Standards. The recommendations require a sustainable source of protein be identified to replace fish meal.
"Most research has centered on the use of vegetable derived protein sources which are inferior in digestibility and assimilation in most carnivorous fish species. These sources often lead to a significant decrease in growth in animals fed these diets," said Papadoyianis.
"Ento-Protein is a superior dietary protein source derived from select insect species produced in a sustainable fashion under controlled conditions. Our goal is to provide our industry with a high quality, sustainable protein source for aquaculture diets that complies with U.S. Organic Standards."
Another reason why Neptune Industries will begin by targeting organic and natural fish production is that such niche market segments are generally in a position to accept higher prices. Once the firm fine-tunes its production, it expects it will "bring cost benefits to the industry".
Papadoyianis told FoodNavigator-USA.com that the insect protein could ultimately also be used in human nutrition. However, it would likely face market resistance due to an instinctive repulsion in the US against consuming insect based ingredients. But the ingredient could be positioned as a means to fortify diets in developing countries, where it could contribute to combating malnutrition.