We Began as Aquaculture Skeptics
Osmo Systems journey began in a tangential industry to farm raised shrimp and fish – hydroponics and aquaponics or indoor farming.
Our motivation to help indoor farming improve were both economic and altruistic – we believed there was great opportunity to help an industry that could create food more sustainably grow and become more efficient.
We were (and are) developing a new kind of water quality sensor and monitoring system that monitors all of the parameters farmers need to know at a price and maintenance point that is unmatched anywhere else in the industry.
When we started getting interest from fish farms, but primarily from shrimp farms, our first reaction was negative – why would we want to help a fundamentally unsustainable industry? We’ve done a complete 180º since then and in this post we’d like to share why we believe supporting farmed shrimp (and fish) is so important.
We are Fishing at Truly Unsustainable Levels
Our story in transitioning to aquaculture began by looking at the facts around wild fishing.
According to the UN figures, we are now pulling out 8x more seafood from the ocean than we were in 1950.
Over 30% of ocean species are today at critically overfished levels and this number is only growing.
The Chinese fishing fleet, which is 10x larger than the US, is doing much of its fishing off the west coast of Africa. What happened to the Pacific? Isn’t that closer to home?
And demand for seafood is only growing, particularly with the increasing protein demands of the rising Asian middle class and growing global population.
So the question remains, how will we sustainably feed the world without emptying our oceans?
Wild Shrimp is NOT Sustainable
When we think of catching fish with a net, we often imagine things like sardines – small fish who naturally school together in clumps, making them very easy to capture. The net that comes into the boat pretty much only has sardines.
Shrimp, on the other hand, are bottom feeders, who are territorial (thus do not school together) and exist amongst everything else that lives on the bottom – shellfish, corals, other crustaceans, fish, sharks, and rays.
In order to capture shrimp the common method is to bottom trawl, where fishermen sink nets onto the seafloor and then drag them across it, capturing whatever is in its path.
Colloquially, this is sometimes referred to as “bulldozing” the ocean floor. There is a range of trawling, but in extreme cases this is an accurate depiction. Costa Rica notable banned bottom trawling from its waters entirely.
Bottom trawling is one of those industries that is very unlikely to ever be sustainable. Right now the global average for every 1 pound of wild shrimp that is caught, 15 pounds of bycatch also caught, brought up onto the deck of the boat and discarded, dead or alive.
In short, we learned that what had been taught was wrong, wild is not always better when it comes to seafood.
We Believe Land Based Aquaculture Can be the Sustainable Source of Animal Protein on the Planet.
If you’ve been reading this and thinking, well, aquaculture and shrimp farming aren’t that much better. In some ways, you’re right. Shrimp farming has some issues they are notorious for, but they are outgrowing them.
Governments no longer allow chopping down mangroves (instead rice paddies are now often converted).
Antibiotic usage is being much more tightly regulated with exporters and packers feeling the increased global pressure (particularly by the Chinese market) for “clean” shrimp.
And farms are getting much better at handling the effluent they release into the environment, using innovative methods such as closed-loop outdoor pond systems.
And we would argue that such movements are only the beginning. We see believe shrimp farmings’ “sustainability ceiling” is the highest of pretty much all commonly eaten animal proteins.
The shrimp farm of the future will:
- use almost no fish meal, but instead the animals will grow on a selected vegetarian feed combined with lab-grown proteins.
- It will be highly automated with sensors (Osmobot!) controlling not only aerators but micro-nutrient-dosers to stimulate the best balance of plankton and algae.
- Automatic feeders will deliver precision doses of feed precisely when the animals are ready to eat.
- The feed will not only be maximally nutritious, but it will have naturally introduced vaccines to ward off disease.
- The shrimp farm of the future will never release effluent into the environment, but instead treat its own water in large reservoirs, thus preserving the existing nutrients to be reused on future crops.
- The aerators and feeders will all run off clean energy taken directly from the grid.
- All of this put together will mean that the shrimp farmers of the world will stop being seen as gamblers (due to the unpredictability of shrimp farming), but instead as boring, predictable business people.
This vision is far out there, but it is not at all fantastical. The seeds of each of these advancements is already in place today. It’s now up to companies like ours to make them a reality.