Rare Earth Global, growers of industrial hemp for a range of sustainable products, has received £50,000 (€58,979/$59,021) funding from the UK Seafood Innovation Fund (SIF) to explore how hemp seeds could be integrated into the diets of farmed salmon in Scotland.

With support from the Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC) and the University of Stirling’s Institute of Aquaculture, the project team has begun an initial feasibility trial to assess the impact of hemp protein on fish health and wellbeing, looking at factors such as digestibility and nutritional value.

Hemp-based protein is already sold for human consumption as a plant-based nutritional supplement as well as being used in cattle and poultry farming. However, the results of this study could see locally grown hemp being introduced as a core feed ingredient in aquaculture for the first time.

Initial indications suggest that a protein content of up to 50 percent could be achieved from the plants grown on UK soil, exceeding producers’ minimum requirements of 35 percent, as well as reducing the sector’s reliance on imported ingredients such as soy and fishmeal.

By 2024, Rare Earth Global expects to be the largest UK-based hemp processor and said it has already had positive discussions with some of Scotland’s major seafood producers and feed manufacturers.

“There are lots of novel feed ingredients coming into the aquaculture sector, but the hemp seed trial is about making the best use of local ingredients,” said Suneet Shivaprasad, managing director and co-founder of Rare Earth Global.

Studies show that hemp protein conversion rates in salmon are much higher than for cattle or poultry, highlighting a “significant potential” for the sector to introduce it as a new, sustainable feed ingredient, said Shivaprasad.

“The process could be scaled up very quickly and we could see an entirely new UK-based supply chain for fish feed emerging in the near future.”

Researchers from the Institute of Aquaculture will be conducting trials at the University of Stirling’s facilities to assess how salmon react to different varieties of the hemp plant and any impact that the ingredient has on gut bacteria and the digestive system.