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The WaSeaBi project addresses the valorization of waste from seafood processing

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By Milthon Lujan

Head fish. Source: Peter van der Sluijs
Head fish. Source: Peter van der Sluijs

The thriving fishing and aquaculture industry plays a crucial role in global food security. However, this reward comes with a hidden cost: a mountain of byproducts (parts like heads, bones, and guts) that are often discarded as waste.

But what if these “wastes” held untapped potential? This is where the innovative WaSeaBi project comes into play.

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Funded by the European Union, WaSeaBi tackles the challenge of seafood products with a dual focus: environmental sustainability and economic benefit.

A team of scientists from Ghent University, AZTI, the Technical University of Denmark, Chalmers University of Technology, Huazhong Agricultural University, and Nutrition Sciences N.V. published a project report providing insights into the valorization of secondary fish products by presenting the project’s results and findings.

The issue: from abundance to waste

Our global appetite for fish is increasing, leading to record levels of fishing and aquaculture production. But this rising demand brings a significant problem: secondary products from seafood processing. These represent between 20 and 80% of the fish’s weight, depending on the species and processing methods. Heads, tails, skins, and bones: all these valuable parts are often discarded or used in low-value applications, such as fishmeal.

Imagine extracting valuable proteins, fatty acids, and minerals from what was once considered mere waste. WaSeaBi aims to unlock the economic and environmental benefits of these overlooked resources.

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By developing innovative technologies to utilize waste (sidestreams) from seafood processing efficiently, the project contributes to:

  • Improved food security: Transforming waste into valuable food ingredients helps meet the growing demand for proteins and essential nutrients.
  • Environmental conservation: By reducing waste and maximizing resource utilization, WaSeaBi promotes a more sustainable fishing industry.

Revealing obstacles: a deep dive into challenges

The project began by identifying obstacles hindering the effective utilization of secondary streams. A comprehensive study of the European fishing sector revealed key obstacles:

  • Technological limitations: Existing methods lacked efficiency in extracting valuable components from these complex materials.
  • Resource constraints: Limited space, personnel, and infrastructure within processing facilities presented logistical hurdles.
  • Uncertain market: The market for secondary stream-derived products remained underdeveloped.

Changing course: innovative technologies emerge

WaSeaBi scientists embraced the challenge and developed and tested several promising technologies at pilot and laboratory scales. These included:

  • pH shift and enzymatic hydrolysis: Techniques to break down proteins and other molecules into usable forms.
  • Membrane concentration: A method to efficiently concentrate valuable compounds from a solution.
  • Flocculation and centrifugation: Processes to separate proteins and minerals from waste streams, reducing environmental impact and recovering valuable resources.

Success stories: Turning sidestreams into valuable products

The study cites, for example, membrane concentration successfully recovered valuable molecules from mussel cooking wastewater, minimizing environmental impact. Additionally, flocculation proved effective in extracting proteins and phosphates from process waters, reducing organic waste, and recovering vital nutrients.

Streamlined decision-making: tools for informed strategies

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The project goes beyond technology. WaSeaBi developed decision-making tools to assist industry stakeholders in choosing and implementing the most suitable valorization strategies. These tools consider:

  • Technical feasibility: Assessing the suitability of existing technology for specific secondary streams.
  • Legal compliance: Ensuring compliance with relevant regulations and safety standards.
  • Economic viability: Evaluating the profitability of implementing new technology.
  • Environmental impact: Minimizing the environmental footprint of sidestream valorization processes.
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Life cycle assessment: optimizing environmental performance

WaSeaBi went a step further by conducting a life cycle assessment (LCA) of each technology. This analysis identified key factors influencing environmental impact, such as:

  • Minimizing chemical use: Reducing reliance on harsh chemicals in processing optimizes the environmental footprint.
  • Improving energy efficiency: Streamlining energy consumption during valorization processes is crucial for sustainability.

Conclusion

The WaSeaBi project paves the way for a future where the fishing and aquaculture industries adopt a more circular approach. By turning waste into valuable products, WaSeaBi not only reduces environmental impact but also creates new economic opportunities.

Reference (open access)
Cadena, E.; Kocak, O.; Dewulf, J.; Iñarra, B.; Bald, C.; Gutierrez, M.; San Martin, D.; Ibarruri, J.; Sørensen, A.-D.M.; Hyldig, G.; et al. Valorisation of Seafood Side-Streams through the Design of New Holistic Value Chains: WaSeaBi Project. Sustainability 2024, 16, 1846. https://doi.org/10.3390/su16051846