People’s love of seafood is growing, both for its perception of being a more “sustainable” source of meat than chicken or beef, and for fish’s reputation as a “healthier” meat option. However, wild-caught fish has long been insufficient to meet demand, and that has given rise to a massive global aquaculture market. Farming fish requires lots of protein, and for now the majority – nearly all – of that protein comes from fish meal, which is produced by aggressively fishing wild populations of small fish like anchovies and menhaden. Alternative proteins have become a prevalent topic within the aquaculture industry recently, in response to growing environmental, cost, and supply chain concerns surrounding biodiversity and these marine resources. This has created an ocean of technologies that are challenging conventional fish nutrition and seafood production processes. There are two main areas of innovation with the most promise in today’s seafood industry: moving beyond fish meal in aquaculture feed, and cutting out the fish altogether by creating synthetic seafood products. But it’s not all smooth sailing, as many of the technologies-in-development are destined to fail. Read on for my take on where to make bets now, and what to watch out for.
At the forefront of opportunities is alternative feed ingredients. Overfished and depleted wild fish stocks pose a threat to fish meal supply, which has historically supported aquaculture and other livestock feeds. Accordingly, Lux analyses show insect and single-cell protein appear to have the greatest growth potentials and abilities to impact the aquaculture feed industry in the near term. For more information, see our recent report Future Fish Feed: Forecasting Alternative Aqua Feed Ingredients.
Insect protein is making headway as an alternative ingredient to replace fish meal, spurring significant investment in research and development of production methods. This is most evident through the production of edible insect-fed fish, accomplished by Protix Biosystems with salmon and InnovaFeed with trout. As companies validate their products with the industry, insect protein will continue to generate interest for applications in aquaculture feed.
Next to insect protein, single-cell protein (SCP) is also making headlines as a potential fish meal replacement. In recent news, Adisseo and SCP producer Calysta established a joint venture (JV) called Calysseo to develop Calysta's aquafeed ingredients, branded FeedKind. The JV will construct a FeedKind production facility in China that could eventually produce 100,000 MT of FeedKind per year. As a reflection of SCP’s rapid growth, this event follows just eight months after Calysta received a $30 million investment from BP Ventures.
Looking further up the food chain, with fish being food for human consumption, developments around cell-based seafood are showing significant innovation and funding momentum. For example, developer BlueNalu is showcasing lab-grown yellow-tail amberjack. Further, this development has been followed-up with a strategic partnership with Nutreco and a $20 million Series A funding round. But while BlueNalu currently plans to release seafood products in a test market within the next two years, only time will tell if cost-competitive cell-based seafood will be feasible to support growing seafood demand.
As with cell-based fish, the lab will also be home to genetically engineered (GE) fish. However, regulatory approval here is key. In March 2019, the FDA lifted an import alert that kept AquaBounty and parent company Intrexon from importing eggs of its modified salmon, a variety that grows almost twice as fast as wild varieties of salmon. This decision opened the gates for AquaBounty’s commercialization in the U.S.
Innovation is creating opportunities across the seafood supply chain. From the production of insect protein and SCP for feed to developments in cellular agriculture and GE fish, industry players must reassess conventional processes and products to cater to evolving industry and consumer demands. However, take a cautious approach around partnership or investment opportunities, as not every developer has the momentum necessary to keep up with this rapidly growing industry. With global production exceeding 110 million MT (and growing), aquaculture is a tantalizing opportunity and will remain so. You can win by using innovation to fill the gap between fish meal production and demand, or to reinvent seafood products altogether.
- Executive Summary: Future Fish Feed: Forecasting Alternative Aqua Feed Ingredients (Free Download)
- Blog: The Future of Meat is... Protein
- More Agrifood Research: Emerging Ecosystems in Agrifood and Health
- Blog: Emerging Opportunities in the Alternative Protein Space