The "not now, our process is fine" mentality is no longer good enough when it comes to European retailers, as fish welfare increasingly becomes a requirement to stay relevant with consumers, Head of Sales & Marketing at aquaculture tech startup Ace Aquatec told IntraFish.

And it is this shift that pushed the fish stunner company to boost its expansion with an investment from sustainable aquaculture fund Aqua-Spark, said Mike Forbes, who thinks now is the time to drive its product into the market on a larger scale.

The company currently supplies several big players such as Scottish Sea Farms and Loch Duart, and while Forbes notes that they were very much "ahead of the curve," he has also observed a big shift in attitudes among other produces over the last couple of years.

"At the time when Scottish Sea Farms were pushing ahead and doing early research with us, we weren't getting the same demand from people in Europe," he said. But now, things are changing.

"It's a mixture of people who are pushing forward because they want to, and others who realize they need to whether they want to or not. Consumers being more concerned about the welfare of animals, the source of their food... this is the new normal. It might continue to even get more attention, but I think it already gets a lot of it, and that's here to stay."

More machines, more people

Part of Aqua-Spark's investment in Ace Aquatec will support the manufacture of more equipment, which will allow the company to sell more of its stunners, as opposed to working primarily with a rental model.

The company will also be investing in more people, including hiring employees to open up new target markets, and gearing up to launch a biomass camera in 2020, as it completes the development stage for the product.

Ace Aquatec's equipment is primarily focused on the adoption of responsible marine practices.

Its electric fish stunner is currently installed in markets such as Chile, New Zealand, Norway, Alaska and Denmark, but demand from other countries has been growing, said Forbes.

The stunner, which comes in the form of a pipeline coated with electrodes that render the fish unconscious, stands apart from competitors in that it does not need to touch the fish. This means that while traditional alternatives such as percussion stunners need to be calibrated to fit a particular size or species, Ace Aquatec's pipeline caters to species across the board.

"Because nothing touches the fish, we just need to make sure our pipeline is big enough for the biggest fish and then we're okay."

Aqua-Spark has invested in 18 small- and medium-sized enterprises (SME) since 2015. At present, the company has €111.7 million ($122.9 million) in assets under management, largely focused on sustainable aquaculture.