Making Aquaculture More Sustainable: Marubeni Farms Yellowtail on Insect-Based Feed

Amid rising costs and sustainability concerns surrounding fish meal, Marubeni has developed an insect-based feed that could prove to be a viable alternative.

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Marubeni has developed feed for farm-raised fish using high-nutrient insects and successfully raised yellowtail on this insect-based feed. This marks the first time yellowtail has been successfully farmed on insect feed. Past successes have been reported with sea bream. 

Starting in February, Marubeni is providing small quantities to an Italian restaurant that has introduced dishes using the yellowtail. The aim is to get feedback from consumers on taste. If reactions are positive, the company plans to expand distribution channels. Creating new demand for farm-raised yellowtail is also expected to contribute to the expansion of the insect-based feed business.

Rising Cost of Fish Meal

Insect-based fish feed is quickly becoming a mainstay in the food tech industry where advanced technologies are used to produce ingredients. Examples include extracting oil from insects and drying them. 

Meanwhile, the expansion of aquaculture has led to a more stable fish supply, but fish meal itself is anything but stable. A decrease in anchovy catch, one of the primary ingredients in fish meal, has led to rising costs. In this context, insect-based feed is attracting increasing attention as a fish meal alternative.

Seizing a business opportunity, Marubeni partnered with a French insect farming startup Ynsect in March 2023. The partners launched a project to develop an insect-based feed suitable for Japanese aquaculture. 

Insect-based feed pellets manufactured by Marubeni's subsidiary, Marubeni Nisshin Feed for yellowtail farming. (Photo courtesy of Marubeni)

Marubeni Nisshin Feed, a Marubeni subsidiary, was put in charge of manufacturing. They successfully created a fish feed from the larvae of mealworms, insects with high-protein content raised by Ynsect.

Comparable Growth

The companies have not disclosed details on protein content or production methods, but have reported on their testing. From November 2023 to February 2024, second-year fish at a yellowtail aquaculture facility in Kyushu were fed pelletized insect-based feed until fully grown. 

Marubeni farms yellowtail on insect-based feed in Kyushu. (Photo courtesy of Marubeni)

Marubeni reports choosing yellowtail to test the feed because the fish accounts for approximately half of all farmed fish in Japan. Their fishmeal consumption is high, implying a high demand for substitutes. 

But first, the company aims to raise the profile of yellowtail raised on insect-based feed toward its expanded use in the aquaculture industry. Many consumers and retailers remain hesitant based on preconceived ideas about fish farmed with insect feed.

Expanding to Supermarkets

To lower this psychological barrier, Marubeni has begun offering the farm-raised yellowtail to restaurants. Verterraza is an Italian restaurant operating on the third floor of Marubeni's headquarters in Tokyo's Otemachi district. Verterraza has a yellowtail tomato sauce pasta on offer through March 15 (¥1,280 JPY). 

A tomato sauce pasta made with yellowtail raised with insect-based feed at the Verterraza Italian restaurant in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo. (Photo courtesy of Marubeni)

Any positive reactions from restaurant customers will be used to facilitate a future approach to supermarkets and department stores. If feedback is positive overall, the company will begin providing samples to stores. Future sales channels may be opened via campaigns targeting consumers at food events.

Carpaccio made with yellowtail raised with insect-based feed at the Verterraza Italian restaurant, February 2024 in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo. (©Sankei by Katsufumi Sato)

Yohei Kuwano, General Manager at Marubeni's Grain & Oilseeds Business Development Section explains. "We now know that to ensure sustainability we must take into account the limited nature of natural resources [like anchovies]," he notes. 

The company is hopeful that consumers will accept yellowtail raised on insect feed as a sustainable ingredient in their food. Plans are underway to gradually increase production by expanding the target to include yellowtail in their first year of growth and other varieties of farmed fish. 

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