What truly sustainable seafood requires

We must adopt a vastly more resource-efficient supply chain. Fortunately, we know how!
Fish around coral reef

Happy World Oceans Day! Let’s talk about seafood.

From vibrant coral reefs to vital climate regulation, our oceans offer so much more than we often recognize. As we celebrate their unique ecosystems this World Oceans Day, we cannot overlook one of the most urgent human-caused issues plaguing the planet: We’re emptying the oceans of fish and destabilizing the entire planetary ecosystem.

The seafood sector is laying waste to marine life across the globe, overfishing or exhausting upwards of 90 percent of wild fisheries, according to FAO. As the human population expands to nearly 10 billion by 2050 and global demand for seafood climbs almost 30 percent by 2030, we must adopt a vastly more sustainable mechanism to supply nutritious, affordable, and tasty protein. Fortunately, we know how!

Thanks to technological and commercial innovation, plant-based and cell-based seafood could satisfy this demand and enable us to revitalize ocean ecosystems. We can produce plant-based seafood by organizing plant proteins in the same fibrous structures as conventional seafood. We can also cultivate cell-based seafood directly from fish cells: The end product is genuine meat with no animal slaughter.

Dr. Sylvia Earle, president and chairman at Mission Blue, founder and president of the Sylvia Earle Alliance, explorer-in-residence at the National Geographic Society, and former chief scientist at NOAA, stated at GFI’s Good Food Conference, “To be able to take a few cells from a tuna and actually get tuna meat…it’s a fascinating concept and one that we really ought to be embracing.”

A deeper dive into the challenges

GFI’s Ocean of Opportunity Action Paper lays out how intensive fishing has destroyed coastal stocks and driven fishermen into corners of the sea outside of effective governance. As a result, illegal unmonitored harvests threaten international food security and coastal communities. The commercial fishing industry is also rife with human rights abuses, such as dangerous working conditions and even slavery.

As wild fisheries decline, aquaculture has grown to compensate. But it comes with a set of challenges all its own: Aquaculture typically entails the use of feed and oil from wild-caught fish, degradation of fragile coastal environments, propagation of nonnative species, incubation of drug-resistant diseases, and insufficient regulation.

Ultimately, both aquaculture and wild catch supply chains perpetuate social inequity, cause environmental destruction, and kill an uncountable number of fish and other forms of sea life. Furthermore, seafood poses human health risks due to the accumulation of toxins, like heavy metals, and the spread of pathogens.

Coming up for air

Tackling the multiple ecological and social challenges of the seafood supply while boosting output requires more efficient, better-managed production processes. That’s where formulating and popularizing healthy, delicious, and accessible plant- and cell-based seafood comes in.

Through innovations in both of these industries, we have the opportunity to provide people with resource-efficient seafood that tastes, cooks, and looks like the conventional option while protecting the ocean. Removing animals from the seafood supply chain is key to conserving our oceans.

The dramatic rise of plant-based meat, dairy, and egg in recent years foreshadows a leap in the scientific development and market success of ocean-friendly seafood. Such progress could happen very quickly given the likely impending collapse of many fisheries, high cost of certain fish products, and implications of raw fish consumption and seafood allergies. Advances in plant-based and cell-based terrestrial meat could help facilitate a parallel shift in how we obtain and consume seafood.

Startups are already seizing on this opportunity. Companies like Ocean Hugger Foods and Good Catch are already redefining the seafood supply chain with tunaless tunas and more, made directly from plants. Cell-based companies like BlueNalu, Wild Type, Shiok Meats, and Finless Foods are working to develop products identical to conventional seafood, down to the cellular level. But plant- and cell-based seafood need considerably greater public and private investment, reaching beyond the startups who are leading the charge to engage governments, seasoned businesses, trade groups, and research establishments. There is an extraordinary market opportunity and societal need for innovation in this space.

This World Oceans Day, let’s remember that truly sustainable seafood keeps sea life in the ocean. Let’s advance the work being done to meet the global demand for seafood with plant-based and cell-based solutions.


The good food institute icon in white on a seaweed circle background

Julia John