Aquaculture

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Driving innovation in the 'very conservative' seafood sector

Accelerators feel the tide is changing, starting with a shift towards diversification.

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The seafood industry -- both fisheries and aquaculture -- is suffering from a lack of innovation, but that could be changing soon with new concepts and new people entering the sector.

"You are still looking at an industry that isn’t willing to change much. It is a different generation to the current one, and it’s shifting, but it’s still very conservative," Carsten Krome, CEO of aquaculture accelerator Hatch told IntraFish.

Hatch has had some wins recently: it announced it closed the first half of its investment fund and brought several key figures from the seafood industry onto its advisory board, including former Rubicon and Cargill Aqua Nutrition CEOs.

Hatch's current cohort program is based out of Hawaii, with 13 new companies receiving a €100,000 ($110,000) investment from the company in cash and kind.

Krome reports the majority of the new cohort does not come from the aquaculture industry, averages 40 years old, and has vast amounts of technical knowledge.

"If you know how to farm fish, of course it’s an advantage," Krome said. "But if you don’t know how to farm fish, then you just need to have endless conversations with farmers and build an attractive product."

Salmon farmers have historically been less receptive to innovation, Krome said, noting they prefer to do their own R&D without the help of external investor arms for innovation.

"However, I think that it’s changing," he said. "The speed of innovation is changing. Things are shifting very, very fast. Time is on our side, or the side of startups. And eventually, everyone in the supply chain is going to be thinking more and more about innovation."

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Demand for seafood innovation growing

Iceland Ocean Cluster Founder Thor Sigfusson said the industry has sat on its laurels too long while the rest of the world has digitized and developed at a rapid pace.

"There are too many companies saying that what we have is good enough," Sigfusson told IntraFish. "I think the main thing is for the industry itself to be interested in development, and that is still a missing link in many countries."

The demand for innovation is growing, Sigfusson said. The seafood industry in Iceland, for example, has benefited from collaborating with different industries, ranging from skincare to leather to beer.

"People sometimes think this industry lays in mergers and acquisitions, but it is more than that," he said.

Startups in Iceland have become increasingly diversified in their products -- for example, Alda Iceland, a family-run business, introduces fish collagen in their lemonade drink.

Fish collagen, which is being sold as a cosmetic ingredient, can fetch up to €15 ($16) a kilogram, he noted.

According to Sigfusson, the value of a single fish skin can be worth as much as €2,000 ($2,211) by the time it's processed into products for retail.

"We have an industry that is kind of isolated, not only from academia and research, but the financial markets and the startup world," he said.

"It has been a challenge. But there are so many fisheries that are so anxious to have new technology, and that is the driving force for many of the startups here."

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