For the last 50 years, commercial fishing has meant massive trawlers catching as many fish as possible until they ran out. As fish populations have plummeted around the world, this business-as-usual has become a death sentence for species from cod in Canada to tuna in the tropics (PDF) (both fisheries are now functionally extinct). Because fisherman can now wipe out a tenth of a species in less than 15 years, dozens more are destined to follow in their wake.
Now a business competition is trying to sink this model by financing new ways of doing businesses. The Fish 2.0 competition solicited seafood businesses from around the world and matched them with investors plunging into sustainable fisheries. It’s been a welcome burst of progress after 20 years of creeping advances, says Monica Jain of Manta Consulting in Carmel, California, who founded the competition. She says she launched Fish 2.0 to solve three issues holding back sustainable fisheries: too few deals ready for investors, too many small businesses unprepared to scale, and no way to bring these groups together.
It’s too early to say, but Fish 2.0 may be changing that dynamic. “It was a giant hypothesis, but it’s working,” says Jain. “It has broken down all those barriers. … If we want to scale sustainable seafood, then we have to bring investors to the table in order to do that.”
Fish 2.0, supported by a coalition of foundations and NGOs, is an almost year-long business training program (PDF) leading to a final investment pitch competition for ten finalists. Sixty-nine businesses were selected among the online applicants and given mentors from the investor community to strengthen their business fundamentals and polish investment pitches before the two semi-finalist rounds. As businesses hone their understanding of markets, competitors, financial returns, risks, and environmental benefits, they can get a shot at moving into the final round and secure prize money and millions in financing from the investment community.
It’s a new era for a sector that has traditionally escaped the attention of venture capital. For the last few decades, sustainable fisheries, aquaculture, and aquaponic projects have typically fallen into the small-but-interesting or experimental category. But scarcity, soaring seafood prices, and a host of new initiatives–Chicago’s The Plant (growing vegetables with fish), Verlasso’s sustainable salmon system, and advances in creating vegetarian fish feed among them–have started waking up the world to the opportunity of creating a sustainable seafood supply chain.
It’s likely there will be no other way to meet the world’s demand for seafood. Fish are the last major wild food source for humanity, and the pressure from 9 billion or more people expected to arrive this century will almost certainly force the world to farm most of its fish.