Over the past five years, as I’ve built the Fish 2.0 business competition, I’ve seen an overwhelming number of creative ideas bubbling up—with highly qualified entrepreneurial teams behind them. Their innovations, combined with powerful social and environmental forces, are creating a new world both above and below the ocean’s surface.
I believe that by 2027, we won’t be gorging ourselves on shrimp. Or tuna. Or salmon. Not because they’ve disappeared from the oceans or we’re appalled by how they’re produced, but because we’re eating so many other delicious fish from land and sea — like porgy, dogfish, lionfish, barramundi, and others we’ve yet to meet.
I also believe that we’ll know exactly what fish we’re eating and where it comes from— so we can make confident choices based on nutrition and sustainability factors. Fishing communities will be healthier too: they’ll serve local as well as export markets, and new seafood products will boost their economic base. Unsustainable seafood just won’t sell: consumers will walk away from it the way they avoid foods with transfats today.
Historically, seafood has been a slow-to-change industry, characterized by a complex, opaque and often low-tech global supply chain. People assume that change will continue to plod along in bite-size pieces. But the pace has already picked up dramatically. Governments, big industry players, entrepreneurs and investors are focused on seafood sustainability like never before. Several drivers are kicking in at once.
- We’re realizing that we’re going to run out of food if we don’t find alternative supplies and environmentally sound production methods. Seafood is a healthy, high-quality protein source. It tastes good and we can grow it sustainably.
- People are more interested in where their seafood comes from and what’s in it. And they increasingly see quality and sustainability as linked product attributes — I hear this from seafood buyers all the time.
- Emerging technologies that will clear up seafood’s murky supply chain or allow aquaculture to flourish are being developed by multiple players, big and small.
- Investors are realizing that the seafood market is huge, and they’re seeking opportunities to make change in it. Feed for farm-raised fish alone is a multibillion-dollar opportunity.
If you’re still having trouble believing that this could happen quickly, then consider what has happened in other food sectors: coffee, produce and dairy. They’ve been transformed by more variety, more demand for local products, greater awareness of sustainability factors, a focus on quality, and the rise of superfoods – like kale or kefir. That’s going to happen in seafood, too.
We’re already seeing seafood follow the broader food world. The Emerging Trends to Watch in 2017 report from Rabobank’s senior analyst for consumer foods, Nicholas Fereday, calls out increased attention to food waste, more capital flowing to early-stage consumer brands that respond to unmet consumer needs, the demand for supply chain transparency and ethical sourcing, and the rise of personalized approaches to nutrition. These trends already are emerging in the seafood industry.
Most importantly, I believe that sustainability will become so closely associated with quality in consumers’ minds that it’s nonnegotiable. Consumer demand for organic food continues to show double-digit growth, and sustainable seafood is primed to follow that path. We’ll want sustainable seafood because it’s better. In turn, businesses will recognize that a strong sustainability profile is critical to maintaining market share. We may even cease to use the term “sustainable seafood,” because sustainability will just be intrinsic to the word seafood.
Though I am optimistic, I also know that these innovations won’t emerge from a vacuum. To make this vision real in a short time frame, partnerships are essential, just like in the tech world. In order for any of this to happen we need greater connectivity in seafood’s vast, complex global supply chain. The links in that chain — including investors — need to get to know one another. Those connections will breed product and business model innovations. Seafood will move through a distributed network instead of a fragmented supply chain. Together, we’ll spark something new.
And, if we do that right, and embrace change as it happens, then we’ll be able to have our fish and eat them too.