Fishless fish. Confused? You are not alone. Over the past several months, headlines have popped up announcing companies that are building an entirely new industry: lab-grown seafood.
Seafood is the last major source of protein that is harvested from the wild.
The whole idea seems like something plucked from a science fiction novel, but is in fact becoming a reality making its way to marketplaces across North America. But what does it all mean? Are you eating seafood if the protein has not come from an actual fish?
“Harnessing cellular biology, we’re developing a ground-breaking new way to produce nutritious, environmentally-friendly versions of the fish and seafood products the world loves. We do this by growing healthy marine-animal cells on their own, instead of live fish,” according to Finless Foods, a California based start-up.
Seafood is the last major source of protein that is harvested from the wild. All other forms of protein that humans consume are domesticated. The numerous companies producing fishless fish are marketing themselves as a clean, cruelty-free, mercury-free and slaughter-free option.
By not taking from the ocean, they argue they are drastically reducing a consumer’s environmental footprint. Wild capture of seafood can be very problematic when coming from poorly managed and unregulated fisheries. These poorly managed fisheries can harm the stocks they are harvesting long term by taking too much out of the oceans and by damaging important habitat for juvenile species.
Additionally when you factor in transportation, processing and distribution, lab-grown fish could be seen as a more carbon-friendly option as well.
Seafood is also not alone in the quest for alternative forms of protein production. Other sources of protein are also popping up in labs. I am sure many of you remember the concept of lab-grown meat? What about lab-grown foie gras? This alternative was created in a lab in California by the company Just, addressing the demand for the luxury plate without the cruelty associated. (Foie gras is grown by force feeding ducks and geese until their livers are 10 times their normal size.) That same company has also produced lab-grown chorizo and even a cultured chicken nugget.
Just CEO Josh Tetrick claims that the process has now become cost effective and undisclosed lab-grown meat will be making its way to market by the end of this year in the U.S. This is quite a jump from 2013 when the first lab-grown burger cost a whopping (pun intended) $330,000. Regardless of cost, the true test will be if consumers are ready to consume meatless meat or fishless fish.
Although there are unsustainable harvesting practices for seafood there are also many amazing fishery and aquaculture operations that manage their practices effectively. Supporting seafood coming from these sources will help ensure the long-term sustainability of the seafood industry. As for the future of lab grown protein, only time will tell.
Isabella Sulpizio is a coordinator for Ocean Wise Seafood.