The interview

Dr Tibiábin Benítez-Santana, Director of R&D, Fish Nutrition 

Dr. Tibiabin Benitez-Santana 1-1
By Aker BioMarine, August 04, 2020

 

This interview was first published in International Aquafeed

Dr Tibiábin Benítez-Santana, a native of the Canary Islands, Spain, is an aquaculture researcher with the Norwegian krill company Aker BioMarine. Her aquaculture career began in 2004, as a researcher for the Aquaculture Research Group. She completed her PhD in aquaculture nutrition in 2011, and went on to do post-doctoral research at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA). She has also worked as a research associate at the University of Utah School of Medicine. She joined Aker BioMarine in 2017, applying her scientific background in order to build understanding of how fish nutrition can improve sustainability and productivity in the aquaculture industry.
 
How did you get into the aquaculture feed industry?
I grew up close to the ocean, on the Canary Islands of Spain, always swimming, diving and enjoying the sea life. This love of the ocean sparked my interest in marine science, and eventually I obtained a PhD in aquaculture nutrition. I spent the early part of my career in the research field, and after a while, I realised that I wanted to apply my research skills to real challenges faced by the industry. So, I made the jump into the private sector, and I now spend my days tapping into my research background in order to find solutions for aquaculture nutrition.
 
What are you most proud of during your time at Aker BioMarine?
I’ve been in Aker BioMarine for almost 3 years, and I feel quite proud that in that time I have gone outside my comfort zone and immersed myself in new areas, such as marketing, sales and communications. Aker BioMarine is a science-based company, which means that everything we market or communicate is founded in research with a scientific basis.

This approach allows me to have one foot in the world where I’m comfortable, the research world, and another foot in an area that’s new to me, and that’s about interacting with the customers. I like to say that I still have my science ‘heart’, but since joining Aker BioMarine, I have developed a commercial mind as well.
 
How has the company changed since you joined?
We have grown since I joined, gaining new expertise and greater diversity. In my team, we are 10 people representing seven nationalities! We have also strengthened our scientific approach over the last few years, and we are bringing the science into the work of the marketing, communications and sales teams. We are also trying to make the research more understandable and relatable for all. We don’t want the studies to just end up on the desks of scientists, but rather, we want them to be useful for a broad range of people in the aquaculture industry.
 
How does Aker BioMarine address sustainability in its solutions for the feed industry?
I’m really proud of the sustainable business that Aker BioMarine has established. It’s something that is really ingrained in us as employees, in every step of the process, for a truly holistic perspective. Sustainability for us is about ensuring we catch below the limits, keeping a close eye on the krill biomass, and evaluating the impact of krill harvesting on other marine life in Antarctica. We see it as our responsibility to reduce our carbon footprint, to understand the impact of climate change on fish stocks and the ocean, and to continually develop better, more sustainable solutions. To do this, we collaborate with partners, we continually improve our technology, and we engage the scientific community to help us understand the impact on marine life. 
 
What are some of biggest challenges you face, and how does Aker BioMarine work to address those issues?
From my perspective as a scientist, I believe one of the main challenges we face is a lack of knowledge about krill. The aquaculture industry has long been pressured to find suitable alternatives to fish meal and fish oil, and we see that cheaper, more accessible alternatives based on plants or animal by-products are often the go-to options. It’s part of my job to address this lack of knowledge about krill, to continue to research, build the understanding and translate the findings about krill into understandable insights from which the entire industry can benefit.
 
What exactly makes krill such a valuable ingredient in animal feed, for aqua feed especially?
Krill is a great raw material due to all the nutrients it contains; nutrients that promote performance and prevent mortality in marine species. Marine fish are actually unable to make fatty acids, EPA and DHA themselves, so these nutrients need to be added into their diets. For aquaculture, this means adding a feed ingredient that is rich in the phospholipid omega-3, to stimulate better absorption into the body.
Overall, our research shows that krill in an aqua feed diet promotes growth, health and overall welfare of the fish. We have one customer in Portugal, for example, who experienced a major improvement in the survival rates of their fish, as they underwent transfer to new cages, when krill was added to the diet. These are the kinds of stories we love to hear, because it brings to life the findings from our research.
 
You recently led a study in the effects of krill-based diets in Olive flounder. What did the results of this study reveal in terms of the benefits of krill feed for this marine species?
For this study, we reduced the amount of the main raw material (fish meal) and experimented with the supplementation of krill meal. Our goal was to compare the effects of a high fish meal diet versus a low fish meal diet supplemented with krill meal. The results showed that when the fish meal was reduced by half, the addition of six percent krill meal ensured that the nutritional effects were even better than the high fish meal diet. This study concluded that krill is a strong alternative to fish meal when it comes to promoting performance, health and boosting the immune systems of the Olive flounder.
 
What’s the best thing about your job at Aker BioMarine?
The team, of course! I love being a part of the Science and Regulatory Affair team at Aker BioMarine, as we all originate from so many different backgrounds and bring in so much unique experience. This means that we are all learning from each other, all the time, which keeps my mind active and my science ‘heart’ stimulated. In addition to the team, I really enjoy making the science accessible for people and connecting it to real-life problems, challenges, and even opportunities faced in the private sector. Again, I get to have one foot in academia and the other foot in the commercial world. This keeps me busy, and more importantly, it motivates and inspires me!
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