• Projects
  • The effect of dietary taurine on feed attraction and physiology of carnivorous marine fish.


Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC) Environmental and Fisheries Sciences EFS - Aquaculture


Taurine and feed attraction
The effect of dietary taurine on feed attraction and physiology of carnivorous marine fish.
As the global population continues to rise, so does the demand for sustainable sources of protein. The worldwide harvest of wild fish has remained flat for three decades and is unable to meet demands. Increased supplies of seafood are going to have to come from aquaculture that is both environmentally sustainable and commercially successful. Traditional use of fishmeal as the primary source of protein in aquaculture feeds is partially being replaced by soy and corn. Fishmeal, however, is still one of the most expensive ingredients in aquaculture feeds. Traditionally fishmeal comes from the harvest of forage fish such as herring, sardine, and anchovy. This puts competitive pressure on this limited resource since wild populations of commercially important species such as salmon and tuna depend on these fish for food. Currently, aquaculture feeds formulated without fish protein do not perform as well as those that do. This study seeks to improve performance of diets with all-plant protein by examining several questions using sablefish as an experimental model for carnivorous, coldwater, marine species.

What are some potential additives that may make plant-based feeds more attractive to farmed fish?

Does a taurine deficiency affect response to feed attractants?

Taurine has been identified as a conditionally essential amino acid that is necessary to add to plant-based feeds to improve growth and quality of sablefish. Is there an change in variability in growth between individuals in responses to dietary levels of taurine? Some carnivores are not able to synthesize taurine and must obtain it through their diet. Sablefish appear to have a limited ability to synthesize taurine, though it appears to vary between individuals. This study will characterize the variation in gene expression enzymes active in three possible taurine biosynthesis pathways in fish.

This study will build on and expand cooperative work between NOAA and the National Fisheries Research & Development Institute (NFRDI), of South Korea, currently underway and funded by the US-Korea, Joint Coordination Panel for Aquaculture Cooperation (JPA). It will address these questions through use of behavioural studies, analysis of amino acid composition in fish tissues and whole bodies, and employ genetic expression of important enzymes to taurine synthesis in the liver. This research will enhance our limited understanding of the role that taurine and other amino acids play in growth and feeding of sablefish. This will help us improve the nutritional content and performance of an all-plant aquaculture diet and may then be used in improving formulations of aquaculture feeds that will be more efficient, less expensive, more environmentally sustainable and improve fish quality.

Research Themes

Sustainable, safe and secure seafood for healthy populations and vibrant communities
Effective fisheries management provides economic opportunities and ensures the long-term sustainability of fisheries and the habitats on which they depend. The NWFSC seeks to improve the quality and quantity of data used in stock assessments, the methods for assessing stocks and ecosystem sustainability within the context of human modification of the environment. The NWFSC also provides state-of-the-art science and technology to support aquaculture while protecting and maintaining ecosystem health. Further, pathogens, toxins from harmful algal blooms (HABs), chemical contaminants and other stressors of marine ecosystems pose significant risks to health of both seafood resources and to humans. The NWFSC focuses on research to improve understanding of those risks, how to forecast them, and identify means to mitigate their impacts.

Research Foci

Develop research and technology to foster innovative and sustainable approaches to aquaculture
The NOAA Aquaculture Policy calls for enabling sustainable aquaculture that provides domestic jobs, products, and services and that is in harmony with healthy, productive, and resilient marine ecosystems. To achieve these goals, NWFSC’s research examines scientific and technical issues to support aquaculture production. NWFSC research also considers potential impacts of aquaculture practices on the environment and on wild populations of fish and shellfish and methods for diminishing those impacts. Specific research objectives include (1) identify methods for reducing reliance on forage fish protein and oil in aquaculture feeds; this includes the evaluation of plant and microbe-based alternatives for fish meal and oil, because fishmeal and oil used in producing artificial fish diets is unsustainable and often a source of contaminants, (2) evaluate and model potential genetic impacts of aquaculture escapes on natural populations, (3) develop shellfish research that will support regional initiatives, such as the Washington Shellfish Initiative, especially native shellfish restoration and (4) develop new marine species for aquaculture and shore-based marine recirculating aquaculture systems.


Alternative feeds
Use of non-marine protein for aquaculture feeds


None associated


None assigned


Frank Sommers
Principal Investigator
Lisa Armbruster
External Collaborator
Ronald Johnson
Internal Collaborator