• Thu. Nov 24th, 2022

“Fish without fish”: the next big trend in the seafood industry | Environment

ByStephanie M. Akbar

Oct 22, 2022

In downtown San Francisco, there is a pilot production plant for Wildtype, one of the few cell-cultured seafood companies in the United States. Inside, it raises sushi-grade coho salmon in tanks similar to those found at breweries – no fishing or farming required.

Culture begins with the collection of a small sample of a live fish species. The cells then multiply as they would in nature in the large vessels and eventually become fat and lean parts of a fish fillet.

Depending on who you talk to, fishless fish could be the next big thing in seafood production. While plant-based seafood in the United States only accounts for 0.1% of seafood sales – less than 1.4% of the US meat market is occupied by plant-based meat substitutes – venture capitalists are taking cell-based seafood seriously . San Diego-based BlueNalu has raised $84.6m (£74.8m) since its founding in 2018, and Wildtype has received $100 million (£88.4m) in Series B funding with investments of Leonardo DiCaprioRobert Downey Jr’s Bezos Expeditions and FootPrint Coalition, among others.

Entrepreneurs and advocates say cruelty-free cell-cultured seafood is a solution to the seafood industry’s many environmental problems, including overfishing, health risks related to mercury and microplastics, and lack of traceability. The current unsustainable seafood supply chain typically has up to 10 to 15 intermediaries between the fishermen or farmers and the person who ultimately buys it.

Wildtype co-founder and CEO Justin Kolbeck, a former diplomat who worked on food insecurity overseas, worries about how current practices would fuel a population’s growing demand for seafood. .

“The scope of what we face is so huge that if we don’t all succeed, we will collectively fail as a species,” he said. “We can’t solve this problem when we’re at this stage – we have to solve it now, while there’s still time for the oceans to recover.”

In many cases, seafood products travel several times around the world before reaching the final consumer.

“We are one environmental disaster away from extraordinary supply chain disruption and global seafood consumption is at an all-time high,” said Lou Cooperhouse, founder and CEO of BlueNalu, which is initially focused on the growth of bluefin tuna toro. Over the next decade, he envisions the construction of factories around the world capable of meeting consumer demands and says they are ready to scale rapidly.

Sustainable sources of seafood are needed to meet the demand of a growing world population that is on track to reach 10 billion by 2050. As plant-based alternatives that look and taste like fish gain traction, cruelty-free seafood could be on the table within a year or two, pending regulatory approval from the United States Food and Drug Administration.

BlueNalu cell grown fried yellowtail amberjack fish taco. Photograph: Courtesy of BlueNalu

But critics say that for cell-grown seafood to be a better bet for the planet than fishing or farming, the industry would have to make its expensive products competitive and get consumers to voluntarily replace them with wild-caught fish. .

It must also be eaten in large enough numbers to replace wild fish. Researchers say this is unlikely, given that aquaculture, the farming of aquatic organisms, has failed to replace global wild fisheries but only adds to seafood production.

“I’m really skeptical of claims that cell-based seafood companies will make a difference to fisheries and ocean conservation,” said Benjamin Halpern, a marine biologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. , who has sought ability of cultured seafood to reduce fishing pressure.

The State of California recently made the largest investment in alternative protein research of any US state. The $5 million (£4.4m) funding is split between three University of California schools: UC Berkeley, UC Davis and UCLA. And the Biden administration supports lab-grown meat, as noted in a recent Executive Decree.

When grown indoors, cell-cultured seafood like salmon and tuna can be optimized for taste, texture and nutritional content.
When grown indoors, cell-cultured seafood like salmon and tuna can be optimized for taste, texture and nutritional content. Photograph: Courtesy of BlueNalu

When grown indoors, cell-cultured seafood like salmon and tuna can be optimized for taste, texture and nutritional content, and cooked like traditional fish or eaten like sushi. But it remains unclear whether consumers will embrace lab-grown fish.

“We talk a lot about price, taste and convenience, because the three main areas the protein alternative industry needs to focus on,” said Marika Azoff, corporate engagement specialist at Good. Food Institute, a nonprofit advocacy group that promotes alternative proteins. “They have to taste the same or better, they have to cost the same or cheaper, and they have to be widely available.”

Even cell-cultured skeptics agree that high-tech seafood has huge market potential, but they say it will always be an expensive commodity, even if costs come down over time. They also note that species such as salmon and tuna are not particularly at risk globally.

“It feeds the rich another food item,” said UCSB’s Halpern. “Even at the cheapest level – and it will never be that cheap – it will not be the food product that most people eat in the world.”

BlueNalu recently announcement that it has cracked the code to achieve significant profitability in its first large-scale installation, thanks in part to technologies that reduce operating and capital costs. When combined with the company’s premium products and market focus, the company says they will enable an expected gross margin of 75%.

BlueNalu's full muscle amberjack, cultured from cells, beer battered and fried for fish tacos.
BlueNalu’s full muscle amberjack, cultured from cells, beer battered and fried for fish tacos. Photograph: Courtesy of BlueNalu

“I see a role for alternative seafood production in the sustainable seafood equation, just as I do for sustainably harvested wild fisheries and sustainable aquaculture,” said Rob Jones, Global Head of aquaculture at the Nature Conservancy. “Cell and plant-based seafood can be part of that future.”

Jones said alternative seafood could reach 1% to 2% of the overall market, similar to plant-based meats, but any environmental and social effects of production methods, such as carbon emissions and environmental policies. supply of ingredients, must be considered.

Most alternative seafood companies won’t share their intellectual property, and it’s unclear how energy-intensive cell culture is at this point. BlueNalu’s Cooperhouse compares it to beer or beverage production and says it’s important to remember that today’s seafood industry is incredibly resource-intensive.

“Your resources are labor on ships, oil, massive transport and the many animal lives lost for a very inefficient yield of 50% to 70% depending on the species,” he said. “Let’s tackle the problems of the global supply chain and solve them one species at a time.”

BlueNalu and Wildtype say there is no one-size-fits-all solution to meet global seafood demand, but believe their presence can lead to greater sustainability in the industry.

“Fish farms recognize their current practices need to change and commercial fishing operations know something needs to change,” said Wildtype co-founder Aryé Elfenbein, who is also a cardiologist. “Our role is to help with that transition – that’s really what we’re here for.”

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