Ashley Bae, founder and CEO of Verdant Seas, is one of our #oceansolutionists that will be highlighted at the upcoming SOA Connects, our virtual Ocean Summit, taking place on September 3rd, 2020.
“We’re working to make industrial fish food more sustainable - not just for the consumer, but for the environment.” - Ashley Bae
Ashley set out with a passion to generate sustainable wild fisheries, but quickly realized that if she cared about feeding people seafood, she'd have to look at aquaculture - farmed fishing.
"More than half of the seafood that ends up on people's plates is derived from farmed practices rather than wild harvesting.”
Verdant Seas is working to develop microalgae-based food for farmed fish populations. This type of feed has a lower ecological impact and offers a higher nutrient profile for the fish in question, and Ashley’s work strives to make this solution financially viable for the fledgling American aquaculture industry.
These fish need to be raised and fed like any animal. The modern aquaculture industry relies on fish-based “aquafeed” to feed their stock. Feeding wild-caught fish to farm-raised fish requires more input material than output product, meaning that depending on the species in question, it takes the equivalent of about 5 wild fish to raise 1 farmed one. In the words of Ashley: “that’s crazy, right? It doesn’t make sense.”
Verdant Seas’ mission is to create an alternative food source for these farmed fish. Their solution: marine microalgae. A diet of microalgae raises fish up to 70% quicker than conventional methods, lowering the ecological impact of aquaculture, and providing more nutrient-enriched product. Ashley’s current work is focused on making sure that this new product is as affordable as it is effective.
“Our team is really motivated by food insecurity issues, and one of our main challenges is to drive the price down for what is a premium product. If you go to the supermarket right now and you wanna buy the really nice, responsibly sourced, microalgae fed salmon, you’re going to pay a big premium for it - and I don't think you should have to.”
As the seafood industry in the United States grows, Ashley wants to see it grow “in a way that’s healthy and makes sense for the environment,” and she turns to her “mini climate heroes” (microalgae) to do this. The carbon sequestration they perform and the accelerated growth of algae-fed fish both offset the higher cost of production, at least until that price can be brought down.
These fish require more input to produce, and by choosing to farm animals further down the food chain (like shellfish or tilapia) the aquaculture industry could save on aquafeed costs as well as help the environment.
“As a Korean American, I’m used to eating seafood of all kinds: fish, kelp, algae, you name it. [But] I would love to see us not eating a bunch of high-trophic level species, like bluefin tuna.”
Tilapia - a common aquaculture product - aren’t normally carnivorous, yet they’re fed a fish-based diet. “We’re pulling 5 fish out of the seas, grinding them up, just to feed 1 fish - which doesn’t make sense. And on top of that, they can't even really digest this feed, so it makes even less sense. And yet, it’s still commonplace!”
Her Vision for the Future:
Verdant Seas is focused on growing the burgeoning American aquaculture industry in a way that’s sustainable for the environment as well as its patrons. As the next generation of fish-eaters readies their nets, Ashley urges them to think local.
“A lot of wharves have mussels that naturally grow on them. How cool would it be if we could just leverage what’s already out there?”
Five marine species make up about 80% of the seafood in a typical American diet. According to Ashley, this shows a low rate of “seafood literacy.” Educating the next generation could change that. Today’s youths can make a change in their seafood diversity and ecological impact by fishing what’s naturally available to them. “Embracing local and seasonal seafoods is something I would really love to see in America and even beyond. That, and microalgae smoothies!”
Ashley’s work with Verdant Seas is filled with business terms like “Life Cycle Assessment” and “Food Conversion Ratio,” but at the end of the day, her work is fueled by a passion for the ocean and the people that rely on it.
“All my life I’ve been interested in fish. I was always at the aquarium. People used to tell me: ‘Oh, marine biology is a phase. Everybody grows out of that phase...’
But I’ve never grown out of it.”
Next SOA Connects Ocean Solutions Summit: September 3, 2020