Aquaculture is a rapidly growing industry, generally deemed necessary to meet the increasing global demand for seafood. But when you learn it takes around 1.5 kilograms of wild, ocean-caught fish to produce just one kilogram of farmed fish, common sense says it can’t be sustainable. Enter Luke Wheat, director of Western Australian company Future Green Solutions. He’s making fish food from maggots.

Future Green Solutions sells live and dried insects to the reptile and aquarium industries, so Wheat knows a thing or two about bugs. His idea is to feed food waste to black soldier fly pupae, or maggots. A few weeks later, he turns them into a high-protein food source that can be fed to fish.

“When I first read about black soldier flies, I realised they address multiple sustainability issues in one process,” says Wheat. “I thought it would be a cool movement to be involved with and get established in Australia.”

Joining forces with the University of Western Australia 12 months ago, Future Green Solutions is feeding fruit and vegetable scraps from six Perth restaurants to soldier fly pupae. In their current study, processed pupae are being fed to rainbow trout.

Wheat says the restaurants involved have a keen interest in sustainability, and are pleased their waste is being used rather than going to landfill. By-products from the process are oil and castings, organic matter that can be used as compost.

Ocean-sourced feed – in other words, fish from the sea – is also fed to livestock. In Australia, pigs and poultry are fed fish because it's highly digestible and has a better balance of nutrients than other proteins, but the somewhat paradoxical use of fish to feed fish often puts the spotlight on aquaculture instead of other farming methods. “Because [aquaculture] is still in its infancy, I think it’s a good place to set standards around sustainability early,” says Wheat.

Future Green Solutions leads the Australian insect-protein push, but is not alone in the market. Byron Bay-based Grilo Protein, for example, sells flour and energy bars made from crickets. Wheat says multiple players will be needed to produce the required volumes.

“We’re in the process of forming the Insect Protein Association of Australia,” he says. “The idea is to have an industry body that can help with funding, create legal standards, inform government around legislative change and make sure there’s accountability for the process and quality. Regulators have been very supportive of the idea and we haven’t had any roadblocks.”

If the thought of all this makes you squirm, relax; your favourite restaurant isn’t going to be serving maggot-fed fish anytime soon. Wheat expects to undertake a full-scale pilot within the next five years, which will need 200 tonnes of waste and 30 tonnes of live insects to produce 10 tonnes of feed every day. Full commercialisation is going to take much longer.

“From an industry perspective, it will be at least a decade before we start producing the kind of tonnages that are going to be competitive with fish meal,” he says. “I think we’ll be economically competitive early on, but then it’s how to produce the volume. You’re talking millions of tonnes, which as you can imagine is a lot of bugs.”