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Fish residues can be transformed into valuable resources

In the quest to combat raw material shortages, a surprising hero emerges from the sea: fish residues.

Researchers are unlocking the potential of over a million tons of fish byproducts annually. This could not only alleviate shortages in the food and cosmetic industries but also pave the way for new employment opportunities.

Fish-derived collagen and gelatin

Central to this research is the conversion of fish skin and bones into valuable collagen and gelatin. These fish-derived products provide numerous benefits compared to traditional sources from pigs or cattle. Notably, fish collagen is often of higher quality, making it particularly attractive to those who avoid meat-based products.

“Fish-derived collagen enables people who don’t eat meat to enjoy products containing gelatin,” noted Rasa Slizyte, a Senior Research Scientist at SINTEF Ocean.

The research specifically targets whitefish residues. If utilized to their full potential, these could produce over 6,500 tons of gelatin annually from just fish skin.

Additionally, collagen derived from fish plays a vital role in creating diverse products like creams, capsules, powders, and jellies.

Considering the frequent shortages of marine raw materials, these fish byproducts represent a significant advantage for the pharmaceutical, dietary, nutrition, and cosmetic industries.

Challenges and innovations in fish residue utilization

Despite the plentiful supply of fish skins, fully capitalizing on their potential presents significant challenges. Many fishing vessels lack the necessary space or equipment to adequately preserve these raw materials through freezing or other preservation methods.

To address these challenges, the SUPREME project, led by the Norwegian science institute SINTEF Ocean in collaboration with several research partners including the Norwegian university NTNU and the Technical University of Denmark (DTU), has explored various preservation technologies.

These methods, which include freezing, salting, and low pH treatments, have shown promising results in maintaining the high quality of gelatin and preserving the integrity of amino acids in the fish skins.

Fish residues from salmon and beyond

The scope of research into fish residues extends beyond whitefish. Salmon, celebrated for its collagen-rich skin and backbones, also offers significant potential for sustainable utilization.

The residual muscle tissue left on salmon bones after filleting is particularly well-suited for gelatin extraction and oil production.

Through a process known as hydrolysis, collagen proteins are broken into smaller, taste-neutral peptides, making them ideal for various applications.

Moreover, salmon parts contain substantially more oil than whitefish, prompting the development of advanced processing technologies.

These technologies are designed to extract up to 90% of the oil, maintaining its high quality, which is crucial for the production of premium products such as taste-neutral proteins and high-quality gelatin.

A shift towards local processing

Currently, a significant amount of fish caught in Norway is sent abroad for processing. By enhancing local processing capabilities, not only could the full potential of fish skins be better utilized, but it would also create more jobs locally.

“If we were to process more of the fish here in Norway, we would not only be better able to exploit the potential of the fish skins but would also create more jobs,” said Slizyte.

Stabilizing key ingredients

As part of another initiative called OMEGA, researchers are focusing on stabilizing marine oils and gelatin rapidly after extraction.

This stabilization is crucial in creating microcapsules that protect the integrity of these materials, ensuring they deliver their full benefits without degradation.

Maximizing fish residues

The ongoing research projects underscore the feasibility of utilizing all fish raw materials. With whitefish and salmon studies providing promising results, researchers are now turning their attention to herring.

These efforts reflect a broader commitment to sustainability and economic efficiency, demonstrating the untapped potential residing within our oceans.

Through innovative research and technology, the future of fish residues looks not only viable but vibrant, offering a sustainable solution to industry challenges while contributing to global health and well-being.

More about fish residues

Fish residues primarily refer to the leftover parts of fish that are not used for direct human consumption. This includes parts like heads, tails, fins, bones, and internal organs. These residues often result from processes in the seafood industry where fish are fileted or processed in other ways to prepare consumer products.

Despite being seen as waste, fish residues have several valuable uses. They can be converted into fishmeal, which is a high-protein feed ingredient used extensively in aquaculture and livestock diets. Fish oil, another byproduct, is extracted from the tissues of oily fish and is highly valued for its omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for cardiovascular health.

Additionally, fish residues can be utilized in the production of biodiesel, as a base for cosmetics, and even in pharmaceuticals where certain substances derived from fish parts are used for their beneficial health properties. The collagen extracted from fish skin and bones, for example, is used in health supplements and beauty products.

Efficient use of fish residues not only provides economic benefits but also helps in waste management and environmental sustainability by reducing the disposal of organic waste into the environment.


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