SENA15: Farmed fish for the next 2 billion people coming to dinner

By

James Wright, Senior Editor

Published on
March 12, 2015

Figures for the expected population growth on Earth are eye-popping: A total of between 9 and 10 billion people roaming the planet by the year 2050, up from the approximate 7 billion today. An obvious concern is how to feed all these newcomers. The answer is complicated, but also quite simple: Farmed fish will best meet what will be an enormous demand for protein.

If you concern yourself with such issues and you’ll be in Boston for Seafood Expo North America next week, then you’ll want to attend the conference session “2 Billion People are Coming to Dinner, Let's Feed them Fish!” being held on Monday, 16 March at 11 a.m. Scott Nichols, director of Verlasso, a brand of salmon farmed in Chile, will lead a discussion with two other aquaculture experts: Neil Sims, co-founder and CEO of Kampachi Farms in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii; and Josh Goldman, co-founder and CEO of Australis Aquaculture in Turners Falls, Mass.

Nichols, a U.S. businessman who was previously the global manager for aquaculture business development at DuPont before launching Verlasso (a joint venture between DuPont and AquaChile), speaks about the future of food with enthusiasm and optimism. Verlasso’s “harmoniously raised” farmed salmon is noteworthy because of its low dependence on fish oil from wild fisheries. The protein oil gap in the fish feed is filled with a genetically modified yeast developed by DuPont.

Innovation is driving the industry forward, and the challenge of future food security is what drove Nichols to aquaculture. “It’s totally engrossing. I wanted to be part of building a business where sustainability wasn’t in a silo to the side of main activities, and every once in a while you reach over there and sprinkle it over the rest of your business,” he said. “I wanted it to be the foundation. I really believe in the power of business to solve very important environmental issues and to be profitable doing it at the same time.”

Each of the three speakers at Nichols’ conference session are innovators in their respective aquaculture fields. Nichols and Verlasso are rethinking fish feed formulations in a totally unique way. Sims is a pioneer in offshore aquaculture, which has near-limitless opportunities. And Goldman has been producing farmed barramundi indoors for years, proving that land-based aquaculture can be commercially viable.

“Both [Sims and Goldman] are trying to deliver more delicious food raised with all kinds of responsibility to future generations and I thought it would be both informative and deliver a hopeful message,” said Nichols. “There is a [bright] future if we think about it differently. We’re all shooting our arrows at the same bullseye.”

Aquaculture is fertile ground for innovation and continual improvement. It’s being done better today than it was yesterday, and aims to be better tomorrow than it is today.

“The conversation is now, ‘How do we sustainably raise our fish?’ Seven years ago, the conversation was, ‘Should we raise fish?’ That’s a pretty big change,” said Nichols.

That change of mindset is largely because of change on the water. But the industry still lacks widespread acceptance when considering the entire global food system. What’s frustrating for aquaculture proponents like Nichols is the lack of recognition in the public eye for all the advances the relatively young industry has made, while a far larger terrestrial agriculture industry gets little scrutiny despite its heavy environmental impacts.

For Nichols, an important step toward wider acceptance and support is helping people establish the connection between the landscapes surrounding us and the food systems they support. Most consumers look at the oceans much differently than they do land.

“We need to find ways to help people make connections to food and understand our food system. We don’t do that,” Nichols said. “We don’t look at the oceans as being part of one continuous food system on the planet. We look at Iowa cornfields and apples grown in Washington and can somehow make a continuous food system out of that. But we can’t seem to do that with the oceans.”

At the end of the day, in order to roughly double the amount of food the world produces, aquaculture will have to play a huge role. Wild capture fisheries may increase, but not significantly. The amount of arable land won’t either. We need a clearer vision on how the world will feed itself. That vision won’t likely come from political leaders, who don’t usually look far beyond their current election cycle. In all likelihood, the leadership will come from the industry itself.

“What are we going to eat in 40 years? I don’t think people are working fast enough on that,” said Nichols. “I think it’s important that, without rancor or being defensive, we say, ‘We are offering you the most environmentally sustainable meat that you can possibly put on your plate and it’s delicious and it’s probably better for you than just about anything you can eat.’ The path that will take us there is not the path that we’re on right now.”

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