Projects

Investigating the conservation benefits of cell-based seafood

What

Recent advances in the field of cellular agriculture – the process of producing meat from cell- and tissue-cultures – have demonstrated the large environmental benefits that could be generated if a portion of industrially farmed and processed meat is replaced by cultured meat substitutes. However, for the newly emerging cell-based seafood industry, the question remains what the ecological and economic impacts of this industry will be on wild-caught and aquaculture products, and if cell-based seafood will provide conservation benefits. Our team will develop first-of-their-kind insights into the conservation benefits and socio-economic implications of cell-based seafood alternatives and will help the industry prioritize its investments in cell-based seafood technologies, marketing, and other relevant interventions. 

Read more on our cell-based seafood project website

Why

The advent of large-scale industrial fishing, growing human population, poor governance and management, and significant technological improvements have collectively resulted in the overexploitation and depletion of many fish stocks. Climate change has also introduced a battery of new threats that put the health of our oceans—and therefore the ecological, economic, and social benefits we derive from them—at risk. At the same time, increasing population growth poses food security demands for healthy, sustainable protein sources. Aquaculture has grown substantially to help meet this need and may have relieved pressure on some wild stocks, but overfishing, destructive aquaculture practices, and poor ocean health continues in much of the ocean.  
 
One radical approach to curbing overfishing and restoring marine ecosystems, while also addressing food security, is to develop cell-based seafood products. These products offer a potential new market alternative that is sustainably produced, scalable to nearly any size, and - could serve as a market substitute to wild caught and farmed fish. 

How

Our team is conducting research to identify the key economic, ecological, social, and political conditions under which innovations in cell-based seafood could drive an ocean conservation benefit. We are pursuing four interrelated research tracks that use complementary methodologies to identify the conditions for cell-based seafood to have a conservation impact. 

Through retrospective empirical analyses, we will quantify when and where aquaculture production has had hidden interactions with wild-caught fisheries, providing a proxy for cell-based seafood on how local context of seafood may help or hinder a new seafood industry. By synthesizing conditions and drivers from past food transitions, we will identify and assess potential limitations to not only the adoption of cell-based seafood, but also its substitution for wild-caught fish. To investigate whether fisheries will fish less if prices are driven down by the introduction of cell-based seafood, we will empirically assess the impact shifting fish prices have on fishing behavior and the socio-economic implications of this shift.

To bring this all together, we will develop a flexible modeling tool that can forecast short term and long term socio-economic and conservation outcomes of cell-based seafood under varying assumptions to glean insights on when and where cell-based seafood can have the greatest possible conservation impact.

Who

This project is a collaborative effort between the Environmental Market Solutions Lab’s Ocean and Fisheries program and the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS).