Aquaculture and the Growth of Land-Based Fisheries
What is something that humans have been doing for almost as long as people have been putting food on the table? While hunting comes to mind, certainly, there is something else that isn’t nearly as intensive and benefits from economies of scale. It is, of course, fishing. Whether it’s used as a metaphor for the value of education, a religious story illustrating compassion, or just something you do to “get away from it all,” fishing is ingrained in our psyche. Indeed, the global fisheries market was $130.0B in 2018 and is expected to grow 19.46% to $155.3B by 2023.
The why behind that increase is the expected growth in fish consumption, which recently reached a record 20.5 kilogram per capita per year and is expected to grow further in the decade ahead to 21.5 kilograms per capita, driving technological advancements in what is known as aquaculture.
Over the millennia, fishing has evolved from the circa 8,540 BCE Antrea Net to today’s 1,000-meter “Purse Seine” nets and the 28-mile longlines that are deployed on commercial trawlers. Like many segments of the modern economy, sustainability has increasingly become an issue for commercial-scale fishing. Over the past half-century, alarms have sounded on both the ecological impact of overfishing as well as the impact of techniques used to capture and process fish.
A recent example of this is what was a very popular meal in the 1990s known as the Chilean Seabass. Restaurant demand became so high that this species was in danger of being fished to extinction. Higher demand meant trawlers were ignoring catch limits which resulted in overall younger catches, often of fish that had not yet matured enough to spawn. Since then, the importation of Chilean Seabass has come under heavy regulation by the National Marine Fisheries Service in an effort to keep this population viable.
To better manage species viability and keep up with consumer demand, fisheries took operational cues from their land-locked rancher cousins, creating open water fish pens. This seemed to be a viable solution at first, but it soon became clear that farming fish in open water presented challenges like sea lice infestations and uncontrollable infectious diseases brought on by having such concentrated populations. What the industry needs is a carefully constructed and strictly controlled environment for farming fish at a commercial scale.
This is where the next evolution of what has become known as aquaculture comes into play. Aquaculture, or fish farming, has been practiced since the early 1980s. In 1980 it represented approximately 7% of fish production at 4.7 million tonnes. As of the most current Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Fishery and Aquaculture Statistics Yearbook, aquaculture represented 46% of the global fish market at 82.1 million tonnes in 2018.
Further, it is estimated that by 2030 that 2/3 of all fish will be farmed. While the FAO report breaks out catches in “Marine” and “Inland” waters, it does not yet identify land-based fisheries. That being said, land-based fisheries not only solve the issue of a safe and controlled environment but also represent a much more environmentally friendly solution.
Investors looking to invest in companies on the leading edge of this technology will find that there are currently only a handful of listed names in which to invest, aggregating to approximately $1.58 billion in market capitalization. Unsurprisingly, all of these names are headquartered in Norway and trade on the Oslo Stock Exchange, although the two largest names Atlantic Sapphire A/S (ASA-NO / AASZF) and Andfjord Salmon A/S (ANDF-NO / ANDFF), also trade OTC in the United States.
When we look at global consumption trends, many of the studies we find have lagged data and don’t account for much beyond 2019. Still, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) figures are pointing to a per capita availability of red meat growing 1.00% from 2010 to 2018 as compared to fish and shellfish growth of 2.06%. Globally, we have seen a rise in fish consumption of 122% from 1990 to 2018. Within those figures, traditional “capture” fishing has grown 14%, while aquaculture fish production has grown a whopping 527%.
Given the geographical freedom and relatively light environmental footprint of land-based fisheries, we suspect that fish will soon be “What’s for Dinner” on a lot more plates in this country and around the world.
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.