November 29, 2015|By Monica Jain

Our oceans and the people who depend on them are in trouble. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, about 70 percent of the world’s fisheries are fully exploited, overexploited or collapsing under the pressure of a $390 billion global seafood market. Yet analysts expect seafood demand to double by 2050, and island and coastal communities around the world depend on seafood for both sustenance and economic health.

The Fish 2.0 business competition was founded to accelerate solutions to this huge challenge by connecting sustainable fishing and aquaculture ventures with potential investors who could help them thrive. The value of making these connections was clear from last week’s 2015 Fish 2.0 Competition Finals & Sustainable Seafood Innovation Forum at Stanford University, where 37 entrepreneurs took the stage to pitch their businesses to investors. This talented group—which rose to the top in a four-phase process that initially involved 170 entrants—reflected the surge in entrepreneurial activity in the seafood sector worldwide, as well as the diversity and creativity of the responses to seafood’s social and environmental challenges.

"We noticed that investors in the field were having a hard time finding fisheries deals and fishery business owners were frustrated that investors had no interest. We created Fish 2.0 to build connections between the groups."

—Monica Jain, Manta Consulting and Fish 2.0 Founder

Aquaculture businesses—a focus for The Conservation Fund at their Freshwater Institute in Shephardstown, West Virginia—had a particularly strong presence in the Fish 2.0 competition. Two of the six cash-prize winners are in the fish farming field: Kampachi Farms Mexico, an open-ocean aquaculture business focused on growing sashimi-grade fish, and Nova Scotia–based SabrTech, whose RiverBox system provides algae-based aquaculture feed using waste streams from fish farms. These businesses and others in the competition seek to serve rising consumer demand for seafood while taking pressure off wild fish stocks, reducing aquaculture’s environmental impact, and extending community benefits.

Fish2.0-winnersAll six winners, left to right: Neil Sims, co-CEO, Kampachi Farms Mexico, La Paz, Baja California, Mexico; Mather Carscallen, CEO and founder, SabrTech/The RiverBox, Herring Cove, Nova Scotia; Nora Eddy, co-founder, Salty Girl Seafood, Santa Barbara, CA; Alfred Kalontas, CEO, ALFA Fishing, Port Vila, Shefa, Vanuatu; David Stover, CEO and co-founder, Bureo, Redondo Beach, CA; Kelly Harrell, executive director, Alaska Community Seafood Hub, Anchorage, AK. Photo courtesy of Fish 2.0.

Land-based aquaculture is one of the most promising solutions. This category includes self-contained Recirculating Aquaculture Systems (RAS), which can operate almost anywhere in the world, including urban and even desert environments. Fish 2.0 competitors are focused on using land-based systems in markets that do not traditionally have access to freshly produced local seafood, such as Switzerland and the states of New Mexico, Indiana, and Missouri. This enables efficient location next to markets and distribution centers, as well as greater access to fresh seafood for underserved populations.

A related trend is the increasing use of aquaponics, which combines fish farming with growing plants in water (hydroponics). The concept is not new—people have been practicing aquaponics for centuries, in the Aztecs’ floating crop islands, the rice paddies of Asia and elsewhere. What’s different now is that entrepreneurs are developing technologies and business models for commercial-scale aquaponics farms. London-based GrowUp Urban Farms, a Fish 2.0 audience favorite among the runners-up, is a great example. The company delivers fresh food to restaurants and hotels and employs local youths with a commercial-scale aquaponics farm that has a very small footprint.

More and more people are recognizing the need for innovation in the sustainable seafood field, and the tremendous opportunities for markets and impacts in the industry. As the Fish 2.0 network grows, so does the number of investors and businesses that want to collaborate to advance sustainable seafood.