Feeding the World One Fish at a Time

“It’s all about working with friends,” says Ione Hunt von Herbing, left, University of North Texas associate professor of biological sciences and director of the Marine Conservation and Aquatic Physiology Laboratory.

The friends she is referring to, in this case, are “good” bacteria called probiotics — living microflora that contribute to health, such as the bacteria found in the intestines of humans and other animals, and in foods like yoghurt, kefir, kimchi and kombucha tea. She calls them friends because she believes they can help address global issues concerning health of humans and the environment.

Hunt von Herbing is currently researching the benefits of using probiotics instead of antibiotics in feed given to farm-raised fish. Probiotics bring viable solutions as a sustainable food source that could reduce dependence on antibiotics, with downstream benefits for humans and the environment.

Tilapia, American consumers' preferred farmed fish, are among the fish species she raises. She feeds them a probiotic strain of bacteria called Lactobacillus, which cultivates healthy flora in the fish. When fed probiotics, the tilapia show significantly improved health with growth rates 26% higher than those raised on antibiotics. The mortality rate is also lower compared to fish grown on antibiotics. Faster growth and lower mortality mean that more fish can be sold to market sooner but without the antibiotic issues that accrue.

Hunt von Herbing says that one of the biggest problems in the factory-farming food industry for both agriculture and aquaculture, whether raising cows, chickens, pigs or fish, is the addition of prophylactic antibiotics in the daily feed.

“Anytime you create and foster a synthetic product there is the potential for disrupting natural ecosystems,” she says. “Antibiotics are polluting the water table, rivers and oceans. They create huge problems for freshwater and marine environments, human health, and the development of fish and other wildlife — hence my dedication to finding alternatives that farmers can use to grow their animals.”

  • Learn more about Hunt von Herbing's work in probiotics and also in aquaponics, a sustainable-friendly, food-growing system that combines aquaculture with hydroponics: Feeding the World One Fish at a Time.