‘Alternative seafood’ is having a moment, with the rise of companies like BlueNalu and Wildtype, which has the backing of Leonardo DiCaprio
In the middle of San Francisco, there’s a pilot production plant for Wildtype, one of a handful of cell-cultivated seafood companies in the US. Inside, it’s growing sushi-grade coho salmon in tanks similar to those found in breweries – no fishing or farming required.
Cultivation starts by taking a small sample from a living fish species. Cells then multiply as they would in nature in the large vessels and eventually become fatty and lean parts of a fish fillet.
Depending on whom you talk to, fishless fish could be the next big thing in seafood production. While plant-based seafood products in the US account for only 0.1% of seafood sales – less than the 1.4% of the US meat market is occupied by plant-based meat alternatives – venture capitalists are getting serious about cell-based seafood. San Diego-based BlueNalu has raised $84.6m (£74.8m) since its founding in 2018, and Wildtype has received $100m (£88.4m) in series B funding with investments from Leonardo DiCaprio, Bezos Expeditions and Robert Downey Jr’s FootPrint Coalition, among others.
Entrepreneurs and advocates say cruelty-free cell-cultivated seafood is a solution to the seafood industry’s many environmental problems, including overfishing, health risks from mercury and microplastics, and lack of traceability. The current unsustainable seafood supply chain typically has up to 10 to 15 intermediaries between fishers or farmers and the person who ultimately purchases it.
Wildtype’s co-founder and CEO, Justin Kolbeck, a former diplomat who has worked on food insecurity abroad, worries about how current practices would feed a growing population’s demand for seafood.
“The scope of what we’re facing is so massive that if we don’t all succeed, we as a species will collectively fail,” he said. “We can’t fix this when we’re at that point – we need to fix it now when there’s still time for oceans to recover.”
In many cases, seafood products travel multiple times around the world before reaching the end consumer…
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