Aqua-Spark feeding sustainable aquaculture movement with keystone investments

Published on
November 9, 2017

Netherlands-based investment fund Aqua-Spark is feeding the growth of the sustainable aquaculture movement with an increasingly large and diverse portfolio of investments in the sector.

The fund was launched in December 2013 with the goal of investing in small- to medium- sized enterprises that produce fish, shellfish, and aquatic plants “in ways that create positive social and environmental impact.” 

Aqua-Spark founders Mike Velings and Amy Novogratz believe their fund can be used both to better the world and to make money for their investors. The fund currently has USD 57.11 million (EUR 49.2 million) under management, and Velings and Novogratz have set the goal of increasing that to USD 1.74 billion (EUR 1.5 billion) by 2025.

Since 2015, the fund has made 15 investments in businesses including feed alternative producers Calysta and Protix, land-based Arctic charr producer Matorka, sea cucumber operation Indian Ocean Trepang, and ready-to-prepare seafood kit producer Love The Wild.

Last month, Aqua-Spark added two new investments to its growing stable of sustainable aquaculture-based businesses, Poland-based Proteon Pharmaceuticals, which is developing alternatives to antibiotics used in aquaculture, and U.S.-based fish-breeding technology firm Cryoocyte. Velings and Novogratz said both companies are a good fit with this ethos and that their investors are excited by their potential.

“Proteon and Cryoocyte, are cutting-edge technologies that help to make fish farming healthier and more efficient by eliminating antibiotics, reducing feed use, and enabling farms to safeguard their broodstock,” they said. “With these investments, we have entered new areas of the value-chain with solutions that span the entire lifecycle and lead the way for industry-wide improvements.”

Proteon transforms naturally occurring bacteriophages (phages) into commercial-grade products that target bacterial infections but do not create resistance. They work by attacking one type of bacteria, whereas antibiotics strike both harmful bacteria and resident-friendly bacteria, leading to opportunistic infection and resistance.  

The company has so far developed solutions for pseudomonas and aeromonas infections in fish, and for salmonella infections in poultry. Market-ready custom vaccines and farm-monitoring services are also in the works.

“Finding alternatives to antibiotics has been a priority for us from the start, so the progress that Proteon has made in understanding bacteriophages is a boon. After years on the periphery, we are just starting to unlock their potential,” Velings and Novogratz said.

Tackling the growing issue of bacterial resistance is an urgent task. A conservative estimate puts the number of Americans infected with antibiotic-resistant infections every year at around two million, and at least 23,000 die as a direct result, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The World Health Organization finds that antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development that we face today. Over two-thirds of antibiotic use is attributed to the production of animal protein.

Aqua-Spark investments bring the added benefit of access to expertise and an extensive network, which helps companies to grow and to excel, which Proteon founder and CEO Jarek Dastych said was a key consideration in his company’s pairing with the firm.

“We are thrilled by Aqua-Spark’s investment in Proteon, which will help us to start delivering our patented phage-based technologies to the global aquaculture industry and help increase its sustainability, reduce the need for antibiotics, and boost productivity,” he said.

Cryoocyte, based in Allston, Massachusetts, uses high-precision technology to achieve greater control and accuracy in fish breeding. Using low temperature preservation of unfertilized eggs, Cryoocyte gives scientists more time to grade each batch of eggs based on biochemical, morphological, and genetic characteristics. This data is used to create the best genetic crosses to suit each fish farmer’s needs and results in the production of naturally healthier offspring.

“By improving the selective breeding process of fish without any genetic modification, Cryoocyte helps make aquaculture naturally more efficient, resilient, and disease-resistant, and also reduces feed use by increasing food conversion ratios,” said Velings and Novogratz.

Aqua-Spark funding will help Cryoocyte to expand its team and to scale up service operations for egg producers and farmers in key aquaculture markets such as Norway, according to chief executive officer Dmitry Kozachenok. The funding will also allow the company to work on developing technologies to cryopreserve fish eggs to enable them to be transported in a frozen rather than a live state. 

According to Velings, Aqua-Spark makes investments based on a long-term vision, which he believes is the best way to realize effective results. The fund plans to invest in a further eight to 10 projects over the coming year, he said – and is right now actively seeking new investments across the value chain. Velings said the fund is particularly interested in companies exploring the development of new feed ingredients and more sustainable packaging for seafood.

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