Salmon has become the guinea pig of the seas when it comes to using technology to supplement falling fish populations. Now it’s moved onto land – and into the laboratory.
The fatty orange fish was the second-most-consumed seafood in the U.S. in 2017, after shrimp, and per capita consumption increased 11%, to 2.41 pounds per person, from the prior year, according to the National Fisheries Institute, an industry group. Globally, demand for salmon has skyrocketed, along with that for all fish, fueling overfishing and threatening supply. Industrial-scale salmon farming, once seen as a solution, has its own problems. Massive stocks of smaller fish are depleted to feed farmed salmon, and parasites flourish in salmon pens where farmers use pesticides, contributing to pollution and ecosystem destruction. Sea lice have infested farms in Norway and Scotland in recent years, and a deadly algal bloom killed salmon in Chile, a top farmed-salmon producer. Farmed fish sometimes escape, too, contaminating nearby wild salmon.
With rising incomes in developing nations driving demand, fish and seafood now account for almost a fifth of the animal protein people consume. Unsurprisingly, the need for a solution to this less-than-virtuous circle has become evident to a growing number of entrepreneurs and startups.
The move toward environmentally conscious salmon farming is already underway.
Maynard, Massachusetts-based AquaBounty Technologies is hoping its genetically modified “AquAdvantage” version of Atlantic salmon, which it says grows twice as fast, will soon appear in the shopping carts of the environmentally aware. The company says on its website that its product is raised in “land-based production systems” that eliminate the various risks farmed salmon pose to wild fish, humans and the environment.
“The need and the desire for more farm-raised salmon is growing, and imports are growing, too,” said Janice Schreiber, a commodity researcher at Urner Barry. “The market is looking for consistency, and that’s where some of these newer lines come in.”
But the next chapter of fish production, beyond even land-based farming, is already being written – by scientists. San Francisco-based Wild Type is hoping that, as with the rise of meat substitutes (and their arrival on Wall Street), lab-grown fish won’t be far behind.