Aquaculture Industry Casts Wider Net in Food and Consumer Markets

Xconomy Raleigh-Durham — 

Water covers more than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, but the oceans’ capacity for meeting the growing consumer demand for seafood is limited—the seas are simply overfished.

Some new business opportunities are emerging to produce more fish amid dwindling fish resources. Global seafood consumption reached 143 million metric tons in 2009, an increase of more than 20 million tons over a decade, according to the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization. The organization has concluded that the global fishing industry has likely tapped out as much wild catch as it can get from the oceans. Given projections for growth in population and seafood consumption, the FAO calculates that the world must produce an additional 40 million tons of fish annually to meet demand by 2030.

“Even in well-managed fisheries, there’s no more to be had,” said Ronald Stotish, CEO of biotechnology startup AquaBounty. “We can stay where we are but we’re not likely to improve the wild stocks.”

Stotish spoke this week at the North Carolina Marine Biotechnology & Seafood Symposium in Research Triangle Park, NC. His was among the voices making the case for aquaculture. This farming of aquatic life accounts for about half of the fish on the market, according to UN figures. As more consumers fill their plates with fish, technology is angling for a greater role in filling the demand gap that wild-caught fish can’t meet. In some cases, technology is also spawning entirely new products derived from the ocean for health and consumer applications.

AquaBounty aims to meet growing demand for salmon, which is second only to shrimp as the world’s most consumed seafood, according to UN figures. The Maynard, MA-based company has developed a way to produce faster-growing salmon through genetic engineering. Using the growth hormone gene from Chinook salmon enables AquaBounty fish to use nutrients more efficiently as they grow, and they reach market weight faster, Stotish explained. The FDA approved AquaBounty’s salmon last year, concluding that the company’s farmed fish was as safe to eat as conventional Atlantic salmon.

The United States imports far more salmon than it produces, flying in farmed fish from places like Chile and Norway. Stotish says AquaBounty’s salmon can offset that carbon footprint with domestic production.

AquaBounty operates a hatchery in Panama, farming the fish in an entirely enclosed, land-based system that Stotish says guards against the mixing of AquaBounty salmon with wild stocks of fish. He says the technology will enable domestic salmon production to supplement wild-caught salmon from Alaska, as well as salmon farmed in pens off the coasts of Maine and Vancouver, British Columbia.

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