January 28, 2019|By Robin Murphy| Land
  1. The Time for Disruption Is Now

Aquaculture is rapidly reaching a tipping point. The industry is increasingly less likely to be thought of in terms of its ‘potential’ and more likely to be thought as an actual disruptor of worldwide seafood markets. Investors understand the ‘why,’ and are more interested in the ‘where’ and ‘how.’ 

Eric Pedersen, President and Chief Executive Officer of Ideal Fish [Connecticut] sees this change as inspiring. “For the first time I think since the beginning of RAS facilities, we’re seeing institutional sources of capital looking to invest money in this industry,” he explained. “With that capital we can innovate and with innovation we can achieve more capital. We’re finally seeing liftoff.”

Monica Jain, founder and executive director of Fish 2.0 [California] compared adoption of aquaculture to that of smartphones. At first, there was a slow but relatively dim awareness of their value, but after 8 to ten years, they gained broader acceptance and become a disruptive force within their sector. Now, they’re ubiquitous. She added, “A few years ago, they all asked us why we were engaging with land-based aquaculture. Now they’re asking more about how or when or where they can find projects. People have now accepted it as a part of the ecosystem of aquaculture.”

Jain noted she is tracking 400+ investors, 500+ ventures, and $60M in investments and operations in 33 countries. The common theme: there is a growing, health- and environmentally-conscious middle class throughout the world with an appetite for more protein. Consumption of fish is growing rapidly, and investors are taking notice. They want scalable projects with transferable technologies.

The major new Atlantic Sapphire facility under construction in Florida is a prime example of these disruptive forces. Once fully built-out and operational, they’ll have an anticipated annual output of 22 million pounds of salmon, taking up 10% of the American salmon market share alone.

Atlantic Sapphire

AIW 2018 participants tour the sprawling Atlantic Sapphire facility under construction in Florida. Photo by Eric Wuestewald.

  1. A Marketing Offensive Is Necessary

As global need for food skyrockets over the next several decades, producers must find sustainable means to meet that demand. Currently, over 90% of American seafood is imported from the rest of the world and the demand is increasing significantly.

As one participant noted, “Seafood doesn’t sell itself—it’s guilty from the beginning.” Too often the field is responding to the negative; instead, the field needs to go on the offensive with pro-seafood messaging—especially in this time of industry innovation. 

Keynote speaker Barton Seaver [Maine] exhorted the field needs to create “an entire generation of seafood evangelists. There is a huge opportunity in the industry to re-imagine our food system on a larger scale. It’s time for the aquaculture community to take that opportunity and change the conversation about seafood in the media."

It’s important to simplify complex concepts. The aquaculture industry has an imperative to explain what’s most important to the consumer with answers to simple questions. Fish grown in RAS don’t use antibiotics because they don’t need them. The impact on ecosystems is minimized because fish are being raised outside those ecosystems. Risk of disease is minimized because the water is filtered and clean. The result is a healthy, fresh, environmentally conscious and nutritious product direct from the source to you. 

It is also very important for every company to clearly state where its seafood comes from. That’s important to customers today. In the case of RAS, which can be built anywhere there’s enough land, that seafood could be from just a few towns over, greatly reducing the cost and ecological foot print by reducing the distance that the product has to travel to get to the consumer.

bartonKeynote speaker and renowned chef Barton Seaver. Photo by Eric Wuestewald.

  1. Quality Control Is Paramount

Bill Keleher of Kennbec River Biosources [Maine] provided a comprehensive overview of the critical value of facilities having a clear Biosecurity Plan. Necessary components of these plans include monitoring fish health history for the entire facility, maintaining a veterinarian on staff for regular health inspections, ensuring proper vaccination and keeping track of the “Unknown Unknowns.” 

The plan should be a living document, with constant updates. Among his warnings:

  •  Feedstock sourcing – be careful where you source from. What’s their long term history? How much do they test their product? Trust but verify – test it yourself to be sure.
  • Surveillance – be aware of all regulations and stay up to date on what’s on the books.
  • Every facility is different –tailor all the elements of your plan to your farm/facility. For vaccines, use a custom vaccine model that’s very specific to the farm (compared to one that is a one size fits all, which may not be as effective.)
  • Complacency is the enemy. Your next intake of new eggs can be the one that is destructive.

WELL WELL WELLAtlantic Sapphire staff turn on a well drawing water from the 4,000 square mile Biscayne Aquifer. Photo by Eric Wuestewald.

The following two sections are thoughts collected from AIW 2018 participants:


  1. Myths Need to Be Dispelled

 “The biggest myth about RAS is that you can’t make money doing it. Returns take time and they must be carefully managed, but you can make money doing it.” Monica Jain, Founder and Executive Director of Fish 2.0 [California]

“The biggest myth is that someone said growing fish on land is like growing pigs in the ocean and I think that’s a myth. The land-based infrastructure has taken some time to develop. It is obviously more complex than the traditional method, but with technology and scientific research, this industry is here to stay.” “The takeaway from the conference is that the industry is robust.” Arni Pall Einarsson, CEO, Matorka [Iceland]

“The biggest myth about raising fish is just a misconception and a lack of education from a consumer view. As a chef, I want my peers to have as much knowledge as possible. Farmed fish is not a four-letter word. We want to educate the public that the future of fish is farmed.” Ned Bell, Executive Chef for OceanWise [Canada]

“The biggest myth is that land-raised fish is any way inferior to their wild counterparts. The reality is that wild fish is not very fresh anymore - they’re full of plastics and other types of chemicals, including mercury and PCBs, that come from the ocean. Land-based fish are raised pretty much with cleaner water.” Eric Pedersen, President and Founder of Ideal Fish [Connecticut]

  1. Key Takeaways

 “The biggest trend in aquaculture that I’ve noticed is feed innovation. Taking the marine component out and not just replacing them with terrestrial animals, but instead replacing them with algae and worms.” Daisy Berg, New Seasons Market and New Leaf Community Markets [Oregon]

“The biggest takeaway that we’ll have at Ultra is just the scale of the opportunity and the level of expertise that already exists in the sector. When you combine those two things, you have, what’s clear to us, a multi-billion dollar opportunity in the next few years.” Aaron Ratner, Ultra Capital [California]

“RAS and land-based aquaculture systems are really the evolution in fish protein that we saw in other sectors. It is the equivalent of the transition to clean and green energy from the carbon energy markets.” The change in feed production and feed characteristics is the most profound change going on right now.” Jonathan Fitzgerald, Blue Tide Aquaculture Corp. and Stope Capital Advisors Inc. [Canada]

“The biggest takeaway from the conference I think is the level of collaboration and innovation. I think there’s a real genuine interest in speaking with each other and sharing ideas and thoughts. There’s a lot going on and a lot that we need to figure out all at one time: production being one, supplies and feeds being another and disease and health management.” Larry Feinberg, CEO and founder of Knip Bio [Massachusetts]

Written By

Robin Murphy

 leads all aspects of branding, marketing and communications to enhance and expand The Conservation Fund’s national conservation objectives. He joined The Conservation Fund in January 2014.