Scientists from the University of Maryland have developed a plant-based diet that could wean farmed fish off of eating other fish for protein, making the farmed industry more sustainable.

A team of researchers from the university Center for Environmental Science's Institute for Marine and Environmental Technology said they found a plant-based diet that could support fast-growing marine carnivores, such as the increasingly popular cobia, instead of conventional diets of fish meal and fish oil, which require the harvesting of wild fish. The August issue of the journal Lipids recently published their findings.

“This makes aquaculture completely sustainable,” Dr. Allen Place said in a press release. “The pressure on natural fisheries in terms of food fish can be relieved. We can now sustain a good protein source without harvesting fish to feed fish.”

In this study, the team replaced fish meal and fish oil with a food made of corn, wheat and soy with soybean or canola oils while supplementing the lipids and amino acids from other sources. They found that this diet could support carnivorous fish as well as — or better than — fish-based diets.

I read John Schonwald's book, The Taste of Tomorrow: Dispatches from the Future of Food, in which he travels the globe looking for "the next big thing" in lettuce, beef and fish. He discovers cobia in the book — which I first had in Florida last year and have seen proliferate across supermarkets since — discussing the merits and pitfalls of farmed fish. To be sure, the industry has its issues, and it will be interesting to see if this research can begin to solve some of them. Read more about the UMCES study here.