ANALYSIS - A recent seafood industry event in New York City, USA, has shown that while sustainability concepts are becoming mainstream in fisheries and aquaculture, true sustainability driven innovation is still in its infancy, reports Øistein Thorsen, principal consultant of TheFishSites’s sister organisation trie.
At the Seafood Investment Forum, organised by Intrafish, pretty much every presenting CFO opened their talks with slides showing projected population growth, the expected increased demand for food, and seafood’s excellent feed-to-food conversation ratios.
While they were all positioning their companies as being part of the solution for tomorrow’s food challenges in front of an audience of investors, their strategies primarily focused on serving the existing North American and European markets. With some exceptions, little emphasis was given to the need for developing new products and offerings to sustainably serve food stressed parts of the world.
“Sustainability,” Martin Sullivan of Ocean Choice International said, “has led to more predictable quotas, which in turn is providing value back to the fishers.”
His point was echoed by Ian Smith of Clearwater Seafoods, which has made an effort to ensure that all the seven species it sells are MSC certified. Making the business case for sustainability, Mr Smith insisted “the predictability created by sustainability efforts and new technology have allowed us to tell a story that is appealing to the market, which is rewarding us with rising share prices.”
Jack Liu of Chinese seafood giant Dalian Zangzidao, stressed the potential of aquaculture in providing a sustainable and stable supply of seafood to a growing population.
With China’s depleted fisheries he sees no other option if we are to meet the growing demand of China’s expanding middle class. “We are leading the way on these issues in China,” he argued.
Phil Gibson of Encore Associates, a market analysis firm, agreed aquaculture has great potential but warned that disease is the biggest threat to the industry’s future. Increased focus on hygiene in aquaculture practice and even development of disease resistant breeds is inevitable, he claimed.
The second great challenge to aquaculture in realising its global potential is its feed source. Phillippe de Laperouse of High Quest Partners, an advisory firm specialising in investment in agriculture, made the case that research into replacing fishmeal with other feed sources is crucial to the sustainability of the industry.
Beyond soy and oil seeds like flax and canola, he put in a word for further exploring the potential of algae as a way to avoid the upwards market pressure experienced in almost every major land based crop the last few years.
“Seafood is – and remains - a commodity business”, said Donald Sollows of Sysco Canada, also speaking at the investor forum. This, sustainability advocates argue, is one of the key challenges to realising sustainability in the seafood sector.