Exploring Alternative Seafood Production

Marilu Cristina Flores, Investable Oceans Fisheries & Aquaculture

Exploring Alternative Seafood Production
Oliver P, Pexels

We once believed our oceans to hold a vast, endless supply of seafood for our consumption. Recent decades have revealed the reality. Humans are depleting many ocean species faster than they can reproduce and repopulate – one example is Bluefin Tuna, with a global population decline of an estimated 80% in the last century.

Over the last century, the global population has increased exponentially and is projected to reach 98 billion by 2050. Millions of people rely on our oceans for nourishment, employment, and basic survival. With this considered, there needs to be a strong focus on innovative, inclusive and sustainable practices within the global seafood industry. 

Enter alternative seafood. Production of alternative seafood is not a novel thought, but new innovation and insight is making it an economic and accessible reality.

There are two prominent approaches for producing alternative seafood: cell-cultured seafood and plant-based seafood. In this article, we will outline what these are and hear directly from two leaders in these emerging spaces.

Cell-Cultured Seafood 

Cell-cultured seafood is defined as the process of growing fish and other aquatic organisms from cells in a controlled environment rather than traditional methods of fishing or aquaculture. A primary motivation for developing cell-cultured seafood is its potential to address overfishing and reduce the environmental impact of conventional fisheries and aquaculture. 

But how is it made? Is this a GMO? The process of cell culturing begins by taking a small sample of cells taken from the desired seafood species. These cells are then cultured in a nutrient-rich environment where they multiply and develop into muscle tissue, fat, and other components that define the fish or species. 

Cultured cells are housed in an environment that provides essential nutrients, such as amino acids, vitamins, and minerals, to support cellular growth and development. Bioreactors are then used to mimic the natural conditions of the ideal ocean environment, like temperature, oxygen levels, and pH, to promote cell growth and tissue development. 

Cell-cultured seafood has the potential to reduce the depletion of wild fish stocks, decrease bycatch, and lower the overall environmental footprint associated with seafood production. This method can help eliminate the need for large-scale fishing and can result in better animal welfare outcomes since fish are not subjected to the stress associated with conventional fishing practices. 

“BlueNalu has a transformative solution to the challenges of our ocean, as we are creating real seafood products directly from fish cells, and over the past 5+ years we have established global leadership in the category of cell-cultured seafood. Our products will be healthy for people, humane for sea life, and sustainable for our planet. With BlueNalu, we are creating – for the first time – a vertically integrated supply chain for seafood that can be demand-driven and not supply-restricted.” – Lou Couperhouse, Founder & CEO, BlueNalu

In the United States, the FDA has been working on establishing guidelines for this industry. A rapidly growing market and interest in cell-based seafood is driving startups and investments in research and development to bring these products to market. The success of cell-cultured seafood could have far-reaching impacts on coastal communities that rely on fishing and traditional aquaculture for their livelihoods. 

Plant-Based Seafood 

In the realm of alternative seafood options is also plant-based seafood. Monica Talbert is the Co-founder and CEO of The Plant Based Seafood Company, headquartered in the Chesapeake Bay. After witnessing firsthand the steady decline of species in her own backyard, Monica became driven to create more sustainable solutions so that her children would be able to enjoy the same vibrant ocean and planet that she did: “With the ocean having lost over 50% of marine biodiversity in the last 50 years this is a critical time to prioritize solutions,” says Talbert. 

Some plant-based seafood products are comprised of soy protein, pea protein and/or algae derived proteins that are combined with other binders to mimic the taste and texture of animal-based marine protein. As consumers look for more sustainable and ethical alternatives to traditional seafood, this sector is rapidly expanding. 

Talbert aims to help drive the expansion and acceleration of this investable commodity: “Plant-based seafood can play a significant protein role in filling the gap between supply and demand to ensure the world is adequately nourished. Specifically for marine protein, the demand for seafood is increasing globally, with over 3B people relying on seafood for their daily nutrition source, however, the fish stocks are not getting larger, with 90% being depleted or at capacity, and aquaculture alone can not fill in the supply/demand gap alone” remarked Talbert.

Seafood alternatives represent an exciting piece of the solution to shifting traditional production methods, with the potential to address environmental concerns while meeting the growing global demand for seafood. This is a sector to watch as production on existing products ramps up, and new innovations come to market. 

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