We need solutions that scale
The health and welfare of billions of people, and indeed the stability of life on earth, depend on ecologically diverse and stable oceans.
Overfishing and marine ecosystem damage pose global threats
Global demand for seafood is projected to grow by about 30 percent between 2010 and 2030, while the quantity we can supply from our oceans declines.
One-third of all fish stocks are being depleted faster than they can replenish, and another 60 percent of stocks are already fished at the maximum sustainable level. Bycatch—the fish and marine creatures caught while fishing for a different species—represents over 40 percent of the entire global fish catch.
Fishing also threatens our oceans’ health. Despite covering just 0.1 percent of the seafloor, coral reefs harbor 25 percent of ocean fish species. These reefs provide up to $400 billion in economic benefits each year, but they are easily damaged by bottom trawling—a common practice of dragging large fishing nets across the bottom of the ocean floor.
By destroying habitat and threatening marine species with collapse or extinction, mismanagement of fisheries and destructive fishing techniques lead to a cascade of adverse impacts on entire ocean ecosystems
Limitations of fishery management
- As fisheries near coasts are depleted, more seafood is harvested from regions where laws and regulations are difficult to enforce, despite the best of intentions for sustainable fisheries management strategies.
- Because many commercial fish species take several years to reach maturity, it can take decades for overfished or mismanaged regions to recover, even when protected.
- Total capture yield has remained the same for decades. But as a fisheries management metric, total capture yield fails to acknowledge changes in ecological impact, the resources required to maintain yield, and the amount of illegal fishing occurring. Commercial fishing vessels now travel twice as far as they did in the 1950s but harvest less than a third of what they used to per kilometer.
Aquaculture cannot meet the growing global demand for seafood sustainably
Aquaculture is a relatively new phenomenon. Approximately half of all freshwater and marine farmed species having been domesticated within just the last 30 years. The aquaculture industry has exhibited a meteoric rise in recent years, masking and overcompensating for declining wild-caught harvests.
Limitations of aquaculture systems
- Aquaculture growth and intensification come with several concerns, including animal waste pollution, the emergence of multi-drug-resistant bacterial strains, and animal welfare.
- Although innovations in fish-free feed formulations and fish-free omega-3 production show promise for reducing reliance on wild fish, the aquaculture industry is still heavily dependent upon wild-caught biomass to supply its feed.
- Some aquaculture facilities use more sustainable practices and risk-mitigation strategies such as antibiotic-free growth, lower stocking densities, and avoidance of sensitive habitats. However, the vast majority of the aquaculture industry’s growth occurs in regions where these best practices are seldom observed.
- From a practical standpoint, many desirable species of marine animals simply cannot be reared in captivity.
Wild fisheries are already harvested at maximum capacity, and they increasingly yield species that are of low value for human consumption and are instead processed into fishmeal and fish oil.
Additionally, aquaculture growth is only anticipated to keep pace with increased demand for 17 countries, while around 170 countries will be left with substantial unmet demand. As a result, experts project a severe demand-supply gap. To meet global demand for seafood sustainably, we urgently need altogether new approaches.
Food technology and commercial innovation can drive market-based solutions
Plant-based, cultivated, and fermentation-derived seafood can provide consumers with delicious, nutritious, and affordable seafood products without sacrifice.
Plant-based seafood is made from plant-derived ingredients processed to replicate the taste and texture of seafood. Cultivated seafood is made by cultivating cells from aquatic animals. Fermentation involves harnessing microorganisms, such as yeast, to efficiently produce ingredients for plant-based and cultivated products.
Why plant-based and cultivated seafood?
- No reliance on—or limitation from—wild population productivity or geographical considerations: These production platforms rely on consistent manufacturing and raw material inputs with robust supply chains and unconstrained supply. Manufacturing facilities for plant-based and cultivated seafood need not be constructed near sensitive, expensive, and overburdened coastal areas.
- Highly efficient inputs: Products can be made from highly efficient protein sources, such as fungi, with the potential to use byproduct streams and residual biomass from other agricultural or biological industries as feedstocks.
- Fewer health risks: Fish and shellfish are two of the eight most common food allergens, causing more than 90 percent of food allergic reaction episodes in the U.S. Additionally, some people limit seafood consumption due to concern about high levels of mercury and other toxins, and the FDA advises those who are pregnant or breastfeeding to avoid certain species of fish completely.
- Reduced loss in the supply chain: Plant-based items have a longer shelf life and can reduce the need for costly refrigerated transportation while providing an attractive opportunity for local production in landlocked areas. Furthermore, the production processes for both plant-based and cultivated seafood are more controllable and predictable, allowing for better real-time response to demand and for much more customized end products that precisely meet consumer needs. More valuable cuts, product formats, and species of seafood products could be produced without generating low-value byproduct waste.
These benefits create an opportunity for plant-based and cultivated seafood to provide a healthier and ultimately less expensive alternative to conventional seafood.
Open-access research can advance alternative seafood.
Virtually no dedicated funding outside of a few companies’ R&D budgets has been expended in this area. And the estimated total global R&D expenditure to date across all forms of alternative seafood is on the order of $10 to $20 million.
Thus, this industry exhibits tremendous potential to benefit from concerted public and private resource allocation.
Research opportunities to accelerate alternative seafood:
- Consumer research providing a more nuanced understanding of seafood purchasing behavior across diverse consumer segments and cultures will enable refinement of marketing and product development strategies.
- The entire plant-based and cultivated seafood industry will benefit from the availability of a detailed molecular and cellular characterization of many seafood products.
- There is a substantial need to develop the tools and resources that are already well established for mammalian cell culture, such as cell lines, robust protocols, commercial reagents, transformation vectors and reporters, full genome sequences, and biomolecular datasets for cells derived from aquatic species.
Download the action paper
Plant-based and cultivated seafood can provide consumers with delicious, affordable, and nutritious seafood products without sacrifice.
The action paper covers:
- Plant-based and cultivated seafood as a new solution to the global threats posed by fishing and aquaculture.
- Lessons from the commercialization of terrestrial animal product alternatives.
- Opportunities to grow the plant-based seafood market.
- A roadmap for advancing cultivated seafood.
- A vision for the future: oceans of abundance.
Watch our webinar
This on-demand webinar features GFI sustainable seafood manager Jen Lamy and with a special guest from Changing Tastes.
They cover the current market landscape for plant-based and cultivated seafood, how alternative proteins can fill supply gaps, what products will be most in demand, and how Covid-19 has changed the seafood market.
Subscribe to our quarterly newsletter
“Turning the Tide” is GFI’s quarterly newsletter for all things alternative seafood. In each edition, we provide updates on cutting-edge scientific developments, new startups on the scene, the most relevant policy advances, groundbreaking investment activity, open-access resources from GFI and our partners, and so much more.
Sustainable Seafood Initiative
Learn how plant-based, fermentation-derived, and cultivated seafood can improve the health and sustainability of oceans.
To sustainably meet the growing global demand for seafood, we need to bring more alternative seafood products to market. That’s why GFI’s Sustainable Seafood Initiative is launching ATLAS: a tool…
There’s a lot of research on the cellular and molecular components needed to match conventional seafood’s taste, texture, and aroma. We’ve put together a resource to help alternative seafood researchers…
See an overview of U.S. retail sales data for plant-based meat, egg, and dairy products, including market size, growth, and purchase dynamics.
Lack of access to cell lines is a major barrier to cultivated meat research. This initiative is increasing access and funding the development of new lines.