I’m going to Washington DC this week to attend a workshop hosted by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). In preparing for the trip, I thought about the impact groups like WWF can have both in our industry and in consumer perceptions of it.
Recently I’ve started to see a shift in how people view the aquaculture industry. Until a few years ago the public’s perception of ‘farm-raised fish’ was a decidedly negative one in many parts of the world. The reasons given as to why we should only eat wild-caught fish centered on food purity, GMO issues, and animal well-being and health. To be fair, in the early days of the aquaculture industry were not great. The industry was riddled with farmers who followed poor practices that led to disease outbreaks. It is also well documented that the industry in some countries was full of human injustice issues and poor animal welfare practices. But it’s also fair to say that many wild ocean fisheries on which we depend for an important part of our diet are badly mismanaged and more than a few have been over-harvested to the point of population collapse. Despite international regulations to protect wild fish, under-reporting of catches and illegal fishing are still all too prevalent. Human-trafficking and forced labor is still an important issue in the industry today although some important strides have been made. Also, environmental pollutants like mercury, fertilizer runoff, and nuclear radiation call into question whether wild-caught fish are really as ‘pure and safe’ as people believe they are.
So, the questions is: should you avoid farm-raised fish and only eat wild-caught or should you embrace aquaculture? Most people just want to do right by themselves and their family, and at the same time be a good global citizen. But how is somebody to know if that piece of smoked salmon (which tastes so darn-good on a seeded bagel) was fed unsustainably harvested fishmeal or was doused in antibiotics before making the journey to your supermarket’s seafood counter? There are a lot of interest groups out there that claim to have the answers for us. And unfortunately, many of them are pushing an agenda that may or may not be obvious.
One of the brightest lights in thought leadership on the topic of farmed fish is the World Wildlife Fund. This NGO recognized some time ago that aquaculture is important for the continued growth and development of the world. They saw that the organization’s independence could be leveraged to establish credibility across stakeholders and allow it to serve as a natural mediator between industry and the public. Starting in 2013 WWF worked with a small group of CEOs from salmon farming companies to form the Global Salmon Initiative (GSI). They argued that ‘instead of using environmental performance as a means of competition, [the companies] would secure greater advantages and economic success by working together to lift the performance of the sector as a whole’. Put another way, consumers don’t have the information needed to understand who the ‘bad actors’ were, so the performance of any one company could negatively affect the whole sector. As Jason Clay, senior vice president of market transformation at the WWF said, “By agreeing to work pre-competitively to mitigate environmental impacts, the GSI will help push the entire industry toward sustainability at a much quicker rate than would otherwise be possible.”
A result of this cooperation is that the salmon farming industry now tracks critical sustainability indicators including fish escapes, antibiotic use, marine ingredient use, disease outbreaks, and environmental certifications. Without question the initiative can be considered a success, and it has led to a dramatic improvement in overall transparency and traceability, and this in turn has improved the industries performance and enhanced its reputation. The baseline for best practice has been raised around the world and the consumer, the industry, and the ecosystem is better of this.
Today, the alternative protein sector is poised to expand rapidly as the aquaculture industry searches for a replacement for increasingly scarce fishmeal. Without a sustainable alternative protein source, fish farms cannot continue to grow at the rate they have done over the past 20 years. The WWF understands the critical role alternative proteins must play in the future and the organization is remaining ahead of the curve with their vision by inviting a dozen or so of the most promising next-generation protein companies from across the globe to participate in a full day workshop. These companies represent a wide range of technologies including microbial, insect, and algae proteins. This collection of young companies is unified by the fundamental belief that technology can and must positively impact food security. Gathering in one place allows us the opportunity to bring together thought leaders and organizations at the forefront of the alternative feed industry to distill a common vision and set of ground rules for the future. Following a similar path as the one blazed by GSI, the purpose of the meeting is to establish pre-competitive
KnipBio is honored to be included in this workshop and appreciates the opportunity to contribute to this important initiative. Since our founding 4 years ago, we have been dedicated to the development of single cell proteins for aquaculture. I believe my company’s perspective will be a meaningful contribution to the dialogue. Similarly, I can’t wait to learn from others as they share their successes and challenges. What we are all working for is bigger than any one company and this workshop offers the chance to crystallize that collaboration across the alternative protein sector in a meaningful way that will result in a collectively stronger industry.