Story telling

Aquafeed panel: (From left) Jane Byrne, Feed Navigator; Chris Ninnes, ASC; Laurent Develle, Regal Springs; Louise Buttle, DESM-Firmenich, Clément Ray, Innovafeed; and Douglas Martin, MiAlgae

Aquaculture needs to get better at explaining itself, but there were plenty of great narratives at the Blue Food Innovation Summit, as Robert Outram reports

The Blue Food Innovation Summit, which took place in London on 21 and 22 May, brought together 275 attendees from more than 40 countries to share insights on how the oceans can help to feed us – and whether that can be done sustainably.

The Summit revealed a “blue food” sector with huge opportunities, but which also struggles sometimes to explain itself to investors and consumers.

The opening address came from UK government minister Lord Benyon, who praised the salmon sector’s contribution to the national economy but warned that the industry has more to do if it is to address its critics.

Lord Benyon

Lord Benyon

Lord Benyon is (at the time of writing) Minister of State for Climate, Environment and Energy, a joint post with both the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). He was opening the Summit on 21 May – as it happened, the day before Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made his surprise announcement and started the UK general election campaign.

The Minister noted the scale and importance of the salmon industry. He also, however, acknowledged problems with the sector, including sea lice, recent high levels of mortality and use of antibiotics.

Lord Benyon said: “The salmon sector is already investing in technical solutions. But more needs to be done. I’m proud to see the UK leading the way in sustainable salmon farming.”

The Minister added that Brexit had changed the policy framework for the UK, with flexibility to set national priorities including protecting the marine environment and the sustainability of fisheries.

He also referred to the potential for expanding the seaweed industry and said that Defra has been working with the Marine Management Organisation to improve the licensing process.

Lord Benyon concluded: “We are rightly proud of the sustainable and traceable seafood that is produced around our coast.”

Catarina Martins

Catarina Martins

The conference’s opening panel, on the topic of “food system resilience”, chaired by Nature Conservancy’s Michael Doane, brought together Catarina Martins of salmon producer Mowi, feed group BioMar’s Paddy Campbell, Lorella de la Cruz of the European Commission and Michael Rubino of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the US.

All the panel members agreed that sustainability is a key issue for the “blue food” sector and a key factor in the “licence to operate”. Catarina Martins added, however: “There is a gap in understanding between those who set regulatory frameworks for aquaculture and those who are involved in the sector.”

Lars Galtun

Lars Galtun

It was agreed those in the sector need to get better at telling their story, to ensure that both regulators and the public understand its benefits and challenges.

Addressing the financial landscape, a panel representing investment companies balanced their innate optimism over the sector’s possibilities with a more sober view of the availability of capital in today’s world. As AquaSpark’s Amy Novogratz put it: “A lack of framing and knowledge, and the need for success stories, is holding us back.”

Amy Novogratz, AquaSpark

Amy Novogratz, AquaSpark

Other panels at the Summit covered, among other topics: changing consumer priorities and the need to communicate the value and sustainability of food from the sea; aquafeed and the need to find alternative sources, especially fish oil substitutes; the increasingly important role of artificial intelligence in aquaculture; “biodiversity” and how to measure and define it; and the need to improve transparency and traceability in seafood supply chains.

On the latter, playing devil’s advocate, Ben Conneff of Luke’s Lobster pointed out that investment in certification and traceability is expensive for small operators in seafood, like the lobster fishermen in Maine his company works with. The danger, he said, is that the drive to “sustainability” could lead to the consolidation of the industry, giving up social and economic sustainability in the name of environmental sustainability.

Roundtables from above

Roundtables from above

Jim Cannon, founder and CEO of the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, said he recognised the concern but added that safeguarding structures can be put in place to make sure that environmental initiatives are not exploited by larger players to squeeze out the competition.

Delegates heard from three different projects around the world that illustrate the huge range within aquaculture.

Bendito Mar Seafarm, Mexico, is a regenerative aquaculture project based in Baja California, Mexico. It combines community development, restoration of native marine species and commercial oyster aquaculture.

Jamaica’s Juli-Ann Russo introduced the Caribbean Aquaculture Education and Innovation Hub, which aims to tackle the problem of overfishing by building up skills in aquaculture, and to create a Caribbean marine park.

Also presenting was GeoSalmo, a land-based salmon farm project in Iceland, which uses a hybrid flow-through system with a supply of pristine seawater filtered through volcanic rock.

Food sector resilience panel: (From left) Catarina Martins, Michael Rubino, Lorella de la Cruz, Paddy Campbell and Michael Doane

Food sector resilience panel: (From left) Catarina Martins, Michael Rubino, Lorella de la Cruz, Paddy Campbell and Michael Doane

With Maarten-Yan Wierenga of Nutreco and Magakli Rousselot of Mirova as facilitators, four innovative companies had the chance to set out their stall in the Innovation Showcase.

Oyster Heaven offers “marine regeneration as a smart business opportunity” with a plan to create oyster reefs at the lowest cost and largest scale, with “mother reefs” constructed out clay bricks, a very environmentally friendly material.

Megan Sorby, Pine Island Redfish

Megan Sorby, Pine Island Redfish

For Pine Island Redfish, founder Megan Sorby explained how her company aims to farm the popular red drum in a RAS facility on a Florida island, using waste from the farm as a nutrient for growing mangrove forests and varieties of salt-loving vegetables as a secondary cash crop.

Joyeeta Das introduced the concept of Samudra, a robotic, automated approach to seaweed farming that has already been trialled in Scotland. The farm structures are made from seaweed-based plastics – a truly circular approach.

Sometimes seaweed can be a problem. Thalasso, a Mexican company was set up to deal with the problem of sargassum, a highly invasive seaweed that has taken over many beaches around the Caribbean. As Paulina Zanela explained, however, sargassum can be used for a variety of commercial purposes – if only the facilities are there to harvest and process it.

Seaweed was also the theme for the plenary session after lunch, with contributions from seaweed expert Vincent Doumeizel of Lloyds Register Foundation, Patricia Estridge of Seaweed Generation, Benjamin Armejan of Oceanium and Pierre-Yves Pasilier of Notpla, which has developed an algae-based plastic.

The panel agreed the possibilities are exciting, especially if Europe’s seaweed industry can make use of the open ocean, but capital is an issue. Vincent Doumeizel said: “We need capital with a long-term view, and we need collaboration with the seaweed industry in the Far East.”

The conference also heard case studies showing the restorative ocean economy in action.

Hilary Roberts of the Earthshot Prize introduced representatives from: Seaforester, an initiative to replant vital kelp forests on Europe’s Atlantic coast; the “Sea Ranger” programme providing (paid) work experience for young people restoring seagrass in the North Sea; and Purina, the pet food company that has committed to supporting these and other regenerative projects.

Other sessions covered the future for smallholders in aquaculture in regions such as Africa and Indonesia – where there are opportunities to invest in taking the sector forward as long as there is also investment in the whole supply chain and infrastructure and not just in individual farms.

Ohad Maiman (left) and Vincent Erenst

Ohad Maiman (left) and Vincent Erenst

The panel on aquaculture production systems brought together some of the key players in land-based aquaculture: Ohad Maiman, a partner in Aquafounders Capital and former chief executive of The Kingfish Company; Vincent Erenst, The Kingfish Company’s current CEO; Trond Håkon Schaug-Pettersen, CEO of Norwegian flow-through fish farmer Salmon Evolution; and Ståle Økland, Director of Communications and ESG with the AKVA Group, the aquaculture technology business.

The panel agreed there is not just one technology for land-based fish farming that will emerge. As Ohad Maiman put it: “Asking ‘RAS or flow-through?’ is like asking whether a Porsche or a Landrover is a better car. It depends on what you want to do.”

Compared with a typical net-pen farm at sea, land-based fish farming requires a higher capital outlay, but Vincent Erenst argued: “Better control makes your fish perform better. We have been surprised at how well our yellowtail have performed in RAS.”

Schaug-Pettersen said flow-through technology is simpler than RAS and there is less to go wrong – but reliance on a supply of clean water at the right temperature limits where you can operate. He said that in terms of capex, Salmon Evolution is now near parity with a sea farm.

The technology is developing fast but there are probably limits, as Ohad Maiman put it: “You can grow salmon in the Sahara Desert – but it doesn’t mean that you should!”

The Summit was organised by Rethink Events. Gold sponsor was DSM-Firmenich and Silver partners were ASC, BlueYou and MiAlgae.



QUOTABLE: takeaways from the Summit
“There is no contradiction between good sustainability and good business performance. Both those things go in the same direction.” Lars Galtung, Cermaq Global.
“Aquaculture cannot be ignored – it must be embraced, but we have to do it better. It’s time to lean in and ensure that the industry grows in the way we want it to grow.”
Michael Doane, Nature Conservancy.
“We need to drop the carbon hype [around seaweed] and focus on what seaweed is, and what it can do.”
Briana Warner, Atlantic Sea Farms.
“Social licence doesn’t exist if you don’t build trust… we are in the fight of our lives!”
Jennifer Bushman, Culinary Media Group.
“When you innovate with new technology, you also have to change as an organisation”.
Sven Kolstø, Optoscale.

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