The impact of coronavirus, sustainable aquaculture and the need to invest in fishing communities most at risk from climate change were just some of the topics discussed in the latest World Ocean Summit Insight Hour webinar.
Introducing the event on May 28th, Martin Koehring, head of the World Ocean Initiative, said aquaculture had great potential to help the world feed its growing population. The sector could supply over six times more food than it does today, equal to more than two-thirds of the animal protein needed to feed the global population by 2050, according to research for the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy.
But to reach its potential aquaculture must end its reliance on wild-caught fish, which are turned into fishmeal and fish oil. Around 60% of the world’s marine fish stocks are fully exploited and 33% overexploited, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Subsidies and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing are major causes of overfishing. Ocean heating due to climate change threatens marine life and the livelihoods of fishing communities in developing countries.
Mr Koehring asked what impact the coronavirus crisis has had on seafood production. Arni Mathiesen, FAO’s special adviser on oceans to the deputy director-general on climate and natural resources,, said that because fish is the most traded commodity in the world, the pandemic has caused production and distribution problems, reducing revenues in the sector. However, the sector has shown great versatility in its response, he added.
Anne Hvistendahl, global head of seafood at Norwegian bank DNB, said she had seen changes in the seafood market such as “home-shoring” (sourcing from domestic suppliers) to reduce supply chain risks, a shift to e-commerce, buying more frozen food and reducing food waste. Some of these were existing trends that had been strengthened due to pandemic, she added.
Focus on sustainability
A poll of the audience found that 70% thought the pandemic would increase the focus on sustainability in fisheries and aquaculture. Only 16% thought there would be a return to business as usual, and an even smaller percentage (14%) thought there would be a weakening in sustainability.
Alan Shaw, president, chief executive and co-founder of feed company Calysta, said the poll result was reassuring in these dark times as sustainability is core to what the company is doing.
Calysta is a California-based biotech company developing a novel feed for farmed fish which is produced via gas fermentation and can be manufactured without using any arable land and almost no water. Commercial production of “FeedKind” is due to start in 2022.
Dr Shaw said that a factory the size of ten football pitches could produce 100,000 tonnes of FeedKind per year. Growing the equivalent amount of soy, which is used as an alternative to fishmeal, would need a plantation the size of Chicago. Soy production is a major cause of deforestation in countries such as Brazil.
He explained that demand for sustainable feed is being driven by feed manufacturers and aquaculture producers, as well as by consumers who want to buy sustainable seafood. Other companies are producing feeds made from novel ingredients such as microalgae and insects.
Mr Mathiesen provided a reality check on the poll results. While he hoped the pandemic would help drive sustainability, there would inevitably be pressure to return to business as usual. “We will still have all the existing problems and some of them may be worse because of the effects of the pandemic,” he said.
Ending damaging subsidies for fisheries was comparatively easy in that it is essentially a political problem, he continued. There has been progress on tackling illegal fishing due to greater cooperation between authorities in different countries on sharing information and taking enforcement action.
The more difficult problem was the growing global divide over managing fish stocks: “Over the past 25 years there has been a positive change in the northern hemisphere, and stocks there are in a better situation than before, but in the south the situation has become worse,” said Mr Mathiesen. Climate change is likely to exacerbate the situation, with warming waters causing fish stocks to decline, reducing incomes in already poor countries.
Mr Mathiesen said that investment from the private sector instead of government grants or philanthropy was vital to finance sustainable aquaculture and fishing activities in marginalised communities. “You need to have investment involving the private sector because you need to have someone who cares about the future of the enterprise,” he added. “If the enterprise folds when there is no more grant money and the donors leave, then it will have all been for nothing.”
Drivers for sustainable seafood
In the second poll, the webinar audience was asked what the key factor would be in creating a more sustainable seafood industry. Policy was seen as most important (44%), followed by consumer demand (26%), technology (18%) and investment (12%).
The result surprised the three guests. Mr Mathiesen said that although policy was important, technology is the big limiting factor: “If we don’t get technology development, then investors will not have anything new to invest in.”
Ms Hvistendahl said while all of the factors are important, consumer demand is most important because it pulls through the entire value chain. The next most important is technology, as aquaculture is a young sector with many innovations such as offshore and land-based fish farming, genetics and data analytics, as well as alternative feeds.
On policy, she said having the right regulation is a positive thing because it reduces biological risk in aquaculture. There is also an important role for banks to use their influence with companies they finance to ensure they operate to high environmental standards.
Dr Shaw said that securing the investment needed to develop new technologies was a great challenge. Startup companies have to finance research and development through attracting equity investors to buy shares in the company. Calysta received early stage investment from venture capital fund Aqua-Spark, as well as from animal feed companies Adisseo and Cargill. Companies then needed to take out loans or issue green bonds to finance production facilities and scale up their business. He added that policy could play a role in helping accelerate investment and deployment of novel sources of feed for aquaculture.
“Significant investment has to be made across the entire supply chain for someone to be able to eat a salmon or shrimp that was grown on a fishmeal-free diet,” said Dr Shaw.
Join us on World Oceans Day on June 8th for the next World Ocean Summit Insight Hour, when we ask: “If you could invest US$1bn in one ocean solution, what would it be and why?”.