Investment Fund Pours Cash Into Cleaner, Greener Fish Farming



Eliza Barclay, NPR

Like it or not, our seafood increasingly originates not in the deep ocean but on fish farms hugging the coasts. Aquaculture already supplies about half of the world’s seafood, and global production is going to have to more than double by 2050 to meet demand, according to the World Resources Institute.

The business opportunity here is tremendous. Thousands of operations around the world now produce huge numbers of salmon, shrimp, mussels, tilapia and catfish, to name a few fish species that thrive on farms.

Not without significant cost, though — from pollution to antibiotic overuse to slavery, the global industry is rife with problems. But there also plenty of examples of fish being farmed in a way that may not endanger wild populations, deplete the ocean of them for feed or generate a lot of nasty waste.

Enter Aqua-Spark, an investment firm headquartered in Utrecht, The Netherlands. It wants to lend a hand to the small-and-medium sized businesses committed to producing safe and environmentally conscious farmed fish. When it launched in December with $10 million ready to deploy, Aqua-Spark became the world’s first investment fund focused on sustainable aquaculture. The money comes from 35 investors — one institutional, the rest private individuals — from seven countries who see an opportunity to make money in farming fish in new, responsible ways.

On Thursday, Aqua-Spark named the first two recipients of its funds. One is a California-based biotech company called Calysta that’s making a fishmeal substitute. The other is a tilapia operation in Mozambique called Chicoa Fish Farm that the fund hopes will be a model fish farm for all of sub-Saharan Africa. Together, they’re getting $4 million.

Mike Velings, Aqua-Spark’s founder and a managing partner, tells The Salt he’s confident these two companies could help transform the industry. And he says the fund has big plans to invest in a host of other innovative companies developing technologies and techniques for producing a lot of fish safely, with minimal impact on the environment.

Many producers of salmon and other carnivorous fish rely on smaller wild species like anchovies as a high-protein feed. (It takes about three pounds of these fish to produce one pound of farmed salmon.) But, as we’ve reported, stocks of these wild fish are strained.

Calysta, meanwhile, has created a product, called Microbial Protein, designed to ease the burden on these species. It’s a fish meal substitute made from microbes that occur naturally in the soil using fermentation. (Read my colleague Dan Charles’ recent story for more on how that works.) According to the company, the end result is “a nutritious, high protein feed that is a sustainable alternative to fishmeal.”

“So far, most of the real alternatives for fishmeal are more expensive, but we think Calysta’s product is something that’s really competitive,” Velings tells The Salt. “If you could … prevent anchovies and other little fish from being fished for aquaculture, you could tip the balance of the oceans globally.”

Calysta’s feed, which is sold in powder or pellet form, is approved in the European Union for use in salmon, as well as in pigs, chickens and cattle. That bodes well for approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other governments, says Velings.

Chicoa, the Mozambican tilapia farm, won support from Aqua-Spark because Velings says it has great potential for expansion and making a dent in the shortage of healthy protein in sub-Saharan Africa.

“There’s a deficit of 1.6 million tons a year of fish protein in Africa, and we want to help solve that by investing in multiple tilapia farms in different regions,” says Velings. “Chicoa is our foothold in the continent.”

Other aquaculture experts are optimistic about Aqua-Spark’s approach. “I think the private sector garners the most force out there, and I don’t see anybody else doing what they’re doing,” says Aaron McDevin, director of aquaculture at the World Wildlife Fund.

“We need to leverage examples of sustainable aquaculture, and with these investments, NGOs can start pushing the curve a little bit. We can say to big, mainstream fish buyers, ‘Why aren’t you looking at these feed alternatives to wild fish?’ “

Velings says the plan is for Aqua-Spark to raise $400 million by 2025.

Wind Project on Tribal Land Dies Quietly


Wind turbines near Campo | Photo: Joel Price/Flickr/Creative Commons License

by Chris Clarke

on February 24, 2014

It’s official: a wind power project that would have generated up to 250 megawatts of power with as many as 85 turbines in the San Diego County backcountry is off the table.

The Shu’luuk Wind Project, proposed by the firm Invenergy for up to 4,000 acres of the Campo Indian Reservation, suffered a mortal blow last June when the tribe’s General Council voted 44-34 to oppose the project. Opposition stemmed from concerns over quality of life, the risk of fire, and perceived health impacts of the project.

Though the project’s proponents had suggested last June that they might seek another vote on the project, the tribe subsequently canceled its lease with the project’s proponent Invenergy. On Thursday, the Bureau of Indian Affairs announced that it was cancelling the project’s final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), thus sticking the proverbial fork in Shu’luuk Wind.

Shu’luuk Wind’s Draft EIS, released in January 2013, was widely criticized for containing insufficient detail about the project’s design, including the type and output of the turbines to be built. Nonetheless, tribe members and other locals expressed strong concerns over fire danger from the project in the traditionally highly flammable San Diego backcountry, as well as increased dust problems from more than 25 miles of new dirt roads, along with concerns over noise and visual disturbance.

The cancellation of the final EIS doesn’t mean there won’t be turbines on the Campo reservation: the tribe already hosts an existing wind installation, the Kumeyaay Wind Farm, with 25 large turbines. An explosion and fire in one of that project’s turbines December 16 didn’t exactly alleviate locals’ concerns about fire danger from local wind development. That facility was offline for nearly a month after the mishap.

Also in December, the BIA approved a deal by which the nearby Ewiiaapaayp Band of Kumeyaay
Indians would lease reservation lands for a westward expansion of the large Tule Wind project, which would be mainly sited on BLM lands to the east of that band’s Cuyapaipe Reservation, and just north of the Campo Reservation.

Opinion on the Shu’luuk project was mixed within the Campo Reservation’s residents as well, so the cancellation of that project doesn’t necessarily mean the end of new wind projects on Native lands in the backcountry. But as more turbines appear in the area, opposition could intensify.

Wind turbines near Campo | Photo: Joel Price/Flickr/Creative Commons License