It took the fish time to get used to the new feed, but after a few weeks, he said, "They seem happy to have it. Whenever I walk up to the tanks, the fish come right up. … They eat it, they're growing well."
Love said the plant-based fish feed fits in with his project's goal of showing that tilapia can be raised in a sustainable way.
"It's a challenge to grow aquaculture and not shrink fisheries at the same time," he said.
Not everyone is impressed though. Food & Water Watch, a Washington-based environmental group, opposes using soybeans in particular to feed farm-raised fish, arguing that the fertilizer used to raise the crops runs off into streams and causes water-quality problems and fisheries declines in coastal waters, including the Chesapeake Bay. The group also notes that many soybeans are genetically engineered, so consumers may be unwittingly eating fish fed genetically altered plant products.
Of the latter complaint, Place said he and Watson are about to test some new plant-based fish-food recipes. One would use soybeans that haven't been genetically engineered, to show that they're just as good for the fish.
The scientists also have done something almost unheard of in commerce or academe. They and their colleagues involved in the research essentially gave the recipe away, publishing it in an aquaculture journal instead of seeking to patent it.
"The goal is to solve the problem rather than get rich," said Watson.
It's not as though they're passing up a gold mine, Place pointed out, as aquaculture is not a high-profit industry. Still, he added, "We want to see fish grown rather than harvested."
Text NEWS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun local news text alerts