Start-ups and investors mingle at Blue Food Innovation Summit

Sustainability, regeneration, collaboration and communication on blue food were among the topics discussed during the summit's final day.
Blue Food Innovation Summit 2023 logo. Photo: Blue Food Innovation Summit.
Blue Food Innovation Summit 2023 logo. Photo: Blue Food Innovation Summit.

Two days of intense discussion and networking drew to a close on Wednesday, the final day of this year's Blue Food Innovation Summit. The industry event brought together 300 delegates from 36 countries to look at the main priorities and emerging trends impacting the aquaculture and seafood industries, and gave a chance for start-ups, investors, researchers and executives to mingle, share ideas and perhaps spark new collaborations.

The business case for sustainability and regenerative aquaculture

The last day of the summit kicked off with a panel discussion on restorative and regenerative aquaculture ventures. CEO Brian Tsuyoshi Takeda of Urchinomics highlighted his company's work in regenerating kelp forests by harvesting overpopulated sea urchins, while CEO of Forever Oceans Bill Bien argued that sustainability makes business sense: "I would challenge the whole industry to think like this. Food should be sustainable, and we can do this if we all work together," he said.

Aside from benefitting the environment and contributing to blue carbon and biodiversity, the panellists argued that sustainable and regenerative approaches to blue food also make business sense. "The ability for consumers to say, by eating this I'm contributing to the restoration of our kelp forests – that's one of the main drivers for consumers to pay premium prices," said Takeda.

Aquatic health: innovations, opportunities, but regulation needs to keep up

The agenda for the Blue Food Innovation Summit's second day also looked at advancements in aquatic health and genetics. Panellists highlighted innovative technologies and approaches such as new vaccines, DNA technologies, feed additives, bacteriophages, genetic and breeding approaches, and diagnostic screening using blood biomarkers. However, Mowi's Chief Technology and Sustainability Officer Catarina Martins expressed concern about the disparity between technological advancements and the regulatory framework, emphasizing the need for regulations to keep pace with the industry's rapid progress.

New raw ingredients for feed: by-products are an opportunity

Sustainability was also a key focus of the session on new raw materials for feed. "To support the growth of aquaculture by 2030 we need an additional 40 million tonnes of feed ingredients in comparison to what we need today," said Jorge Diaz of Skretting, noting that today's feed formulations can contain up to 50 different ingredients. Professor Peter Williams of Green Plains highlighted the potential of utilizing by-products from the bioethanol industry to produce high-quality alternative proteins for aquaculture feed derived from cereals. Brett Glencross of IFFO – The Marine Ingredients Organisation noted that by-products from aquaculture are also a crucial resource for sustainable ingredients. Currently, he said, 54% of fish oil is produced using by-products, "but there's more we can do in this space."

Land-based RAS predicted to "scale up" globally

Experts predict that land-based production utilizing recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) will play a crucial role in future "blue food" production. Ohad Mamain of AquaFounders Capital noted that "It's not Day 1" for RAS: "There are still some red figures that need to turn black. But it is doable," he said. Mathew Zimola of ReelData AI predicted that RAS "will be a big part of feeding people" in the future: "If we look at the supply demand gap that exists right now, and map that on top of the fact that traditional aquaculture is mapped onto a finite resource – shoreline. So how do you produce more fish? The price of salmon will keep increasing, we can go offshore, or we can do it on land. The economics make sense for RAS to scale up," Zimola added.

Start-up showcase, from engineering to biotech for aquaculture

The summit also provided a platform for several inspiring startups to showcase their innovative ideas. The pitches included hydrogen-powered uncrewed surface vessels by ACUA Ocean, aquaculture of marine ingredients by Aquanzo, a support platform for fish farmers in Kenya by AquaRech, biomarker-based health assessment for aquaculture by MariHealth Solutions, tuna aquaculture and floating RAS innovation by Next Tuna, and sustainable seaweed-based bioplastics for fishing gear by Viable Gear.

Communication and education on blue food is crucial

However, despite the growing interest in sustainable blue foods, confusion persists among consumers and policymakers regarding aquaculture. Closing the summit, panellists tackled the question of communication and education, and the discussion returned to sustainability, but this time from the perspective of consumers and wider society. Aquaculture Stewardship Council CEO Chris Ninnes highlighted what he called "a perception gap between farmed seafood versus wild", while Jennifer Bushman of Kvaroy Arctic noted that aquaculture companies need to reach consumers through diverse methods of storytelling that resonate with different consumer priorities, be that taste, tradition, community, fair trade or sustainability.

About the Blue Food Innovation Summit

Taking place on May 23-24 2023, the summit brought together ground-breaking companies from around the globe to discuss forward-thinking approaches to aquatic food production, including sustainable aquafeed, seaweed, fish health and welfare, and digital platforms for smallholder farmers. By showcasing disruptive technologies, and exploring case studies of innovation in action, the focus was on overcoming bottlenecks to growth and promoting greater partnership and collaboration to protect and restore the ocean ecosystem. The Blue Food Innovation Summit is organised by Rethink Events.

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