Eel-farming startup American Unagi nets USD 1.5 million investment from RuralWorks

An aerial view of American Unagi's recirculating aquaculture facility in Waldoboro, Maine.

American Unagi, a startup eel aquaculture operation in Waldoboro, Maine, U.S.A., has received a new investment from RuralWorks Partners.

RuralWorks Partners Chief Engagement Officer Louisa Schibli told SeafoodSource that it invested USD 1.5 million (EUR 1.37 million) in American Unagi, and the new investment will help the latter company fund its efforts to establish domestic supply to help satisfy part of the 5,000 metric tons of eels the U.S. market annually demands.

“American Unagi represented a compelling investment opportunity for several reasons,” Schibli said. “Notably, they are the first and only producer and processor of locally sourced American eel in the United States.”

American Unagi opened for business in April 2023 and is using recirculating aquaculture system to raise elvers – or baby eels – to adulthood. In Maine, the elver fishery has become one of the most valuable in the state, as the small eels sell for USD 2,000 (EUR 1,828) per pound or more, with most buyers shipping them to Asia where they are raised in farms to adulthood and harvesting.

American Unagi Founder Sara Rademaker said the mission of the company is to offer a traceable alternative to existing imported eel products “while championing community growth and responsible natural resource management.”

“Our collaboration with RuralWorks is an important piece in achieving these goals,” she said.

The elvers sourced by American Unagi are traceable to specific fishermen who harvested them in the rivers of Maine, the company said. Maine had 9,619 pounds of elvers available for catch in 2023, and as of 1 May, each pound fetched an average of USD 2,031 (EUR 1,858).

RuralWorks, a joint venture between the Community Reinvestment Fund and Conduit Capital U.S., invests in rural businesses that generate community wealth and economic resilience while also helping to protect the environment.

Schibli told SeafoodSource she learned about American Unagi through the Northern New England Women’s Investor Network (NNEWIN). Schibli is a co-founder of the Vermont Women’s Investor Network, which joined forces with the states of Maine and New Hampshire to create NNEWIN

The nature of American Unagi’s efforts, she said, were a natural fit for RuralWorks’ model of investing in impactful, environmentally friendly rural businesses – especially in light of the company’s partnership with the local Passamaquoddy Tribe of Native Americans.

“Their commitment to sustainable aquaculture practices and the traceability of their seafood resonated strongly with RuralWorks' mission to back businesses with notable environmental and community impact,” Schibli said. “The disruptive nature of their efforts in transforming the conventional eel supply chain in the U.S. is particularly noteworthy.”

Schibli said American Unagi's business model is also tapping into ongoing trends in the U.S. 

“Their strategic alignment with the increasing demand for sustainable seafood, especially within the context of the continued popularity of sushi in the U.S. market, further enhanced their attractiveness as an investment,” she said. “Consumers are becoming increasingly conscious about the origins of their seafood, and American Unagi's focus on sustainability perfectly taps into this evolving trend.”

Photo courtesy of American Unagi


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