Date of Award
Master of Science
Cobia (Rachycentron canadum) aquaculture is poised for expansion, due in part to rapid growth rate, tolerance of culture conditions, and high market value of this species. Similar to other carnivorous marine fishes, the high monetary cost and long-range unsustainability of reliance on fish oil as the principle lipid source for cobia feeds necessitates evaluation of alternative lipid sources to spare or replace fish oil. Unfortunately, alternative lipid-based feeds may affect production performance, and typically yield fillets with reduced levels of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFAs) such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, 22:6n-3). Recent research has indicated that diets rich in saturated fatty acids (SFAs) and monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), coupled with the application of so-called "finishing feeds" (feeds containing elevated levels of fish oil relative to grow-out feeds) at the end of the production cycle, may limit or attenuate these effects of fish oil sparing. Accordingly, I conducted two trials to evaluate the usefulness of alternative lipids and finishing in cobia culture. In the first trial, I assessed growth performance and tissue fatty acid composition of juvenile cobia fed diets (~11% lipid, ~48% protein) containing fish oil (control), or 50/50 blends of fish oil and alternative lipids (beef tallow, pork lard, partially and fully hydrogenated soy oils, and traditional soy oil) supplemented with an algal meal (to meet the 22:6n-3 requirement of cobia) for 8 weeks. Although minor differences were observed in feed intake, growth performance was otherwise equivalent among the dietary groups. Tissue fatty acid composition varied significantly among treatments, however, with alternative lipids containing higher levels of saturated (SFAs) and monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) yielding tissue profiles that were most similar to those associated with the fish oil-based control feed. Although beef tallow and hydrogenated soybean oil were largely equivalent in terms of growth performance and fatty acid profile change, beef tallow was selected for further evaluation because of its low cost. In the second trial, beef tallow replaced fish oil in feeds at one of four substitution levels: 0% (100% fish oil), 33%, 67%, or 100% tallow (with algal 22:6n-3 meal included in all feeds as before). Juvenile cobia were raised on these feeds for 8 weeks, then switched to the 100% fish oil-based control feed for an 8-week finishing period. During finishing, subsamples of fish were collected every 2 weeks to quantify changes in tissue fatty acid profile over time as a result of finishing. In the second trial, the overall similarity of tissue fatty profiles to those in the 100% fish oil control treatment increased over the course of finishing, mostly as a result of declines in SFAs and MUFAs. These results suggest that SFA and MUFA-rich lipids, such as fully hydrogenated soy oil and beef tallow, are effective and strategically valuable as partial substitutes for fish oil in cobia feeds, and that finishing is at least partially effective in restoring cobia tissue fatty acid composition to a state approximating that of cobia fed only fish oil as dietary lipid.
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