Scientists are leaning into the idea of lab-grown food as a solution for food shortages around the globe, and while the idea may not sound appetizing, advancements in cell technology have moved towards more palatable, and even enjoyable, food options. While 3D printed steak and lab-produced chicken are on their way to the market, one innovative company has set their sights on providing a well-rounded menu of seafood options that don’t come from the sea. BlueNalu’s mission is to be the global leader in cellular aquaculture, a type of food development aimed at creating sustainable solutions for overfishing and seafood shortages. 

BlueNalu's whole-muscle, cell-based yellowtail prepared in a poke bowl

Lou Cooperhouse, CEO of BlueNalu said, “As a planet, we need to do something immediately. The United States is regarded as having the most sustainable fisheries management program in the world. However, the U.S. imports 94% of its seafood according to the FDA, and the global supply of seafood is increasingly diminishing, insecure, variable, vulnerable, fraught with issues of animal suffering and bycatch, associated with considerable damage to our oceans via effects of trawling and nets, associated with inefficient fishing operations and potentially dangerous and illegal labor practices, and also associated with products that are frequently mis-represented to consumers and potentially contaminated with mercury, microplastics, parasites, and pollutants.”

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Close up of BlueNalu's whole-muscle, cell-based yellowtail, beer-battered and deep-fried for fish tacos

Speaking of pollutants, the fishing industry also contributes heavily to beach and coastal pollution through petroleum and plastic waste in the form of broken nets and other debris. As with many other types of animal harvest, fishing has yet to achieve a balance between production and environmental and animal protection. With this in mind, BlueNalu has invested in innovative technology to not only supplement naturally-harvested seafood, but to make it a sought after option for pescatarians and other environmentally conscious groups. 

BlueNalu's whole-muscle, cell-based yellowtail prepared in acidified form in a kimchi recipe

The process starts by isolating living cells from fish tissue. Those cells are then rapidly reproduced through a process of proliferation and subsequently turned into fresh and frozen seafood products.

“So, our mission is to provide consumers with great tasting seafood products that are healthy for people, humane for sea life, and sustainable for our planet. We will produce a wide array of seafood products directly from fish cells, that are trusted, safe, and free of mercury and environmental contaminants,” Cooperhouse said.

BlueNalu's whole-muscle, cell-based yellowtail medallions atop a bisque of roasted butternut squash

BlueNalu is all about looking into the future of food production. Forecasts show an increase in problems when it comes to feeding the world population. Working with the goal of becoming “the global leader in cell-based seafood that can sustainably support our need to feed the planet over the decades ahead,” BlueNalu will offer an alternative to wild-caught and farmed fish, rather than a blanket substitute for those options.

The company is not there yet, but research and development is well underway. BlueNalu recently secured $20 million in financing from notable companies in the food industry; this funding will be used for healthy ingredients to feed the fish and to help the company break into domestic and international markets. BlueNalu’s products can help alleviate pressure on the fishing industry in Asia, for example, where seafood is consumed at a rate four or five times higher than in the U.S. and increased demand is expected.

BlueNalu's whole-muscle, cell-based yellowtail prepared in four different recipes (clockwise from top left)/ roasted butternut squash & yellowtail bisque, poke bowl, fish taco, and kimchi

This influx of financing and partnerships may secure a path for BlueNalu to bust into a marketplace seemingly ripe to accept their offerings. Especially with a continued spotlight on workers’ rights in the fishing industry, pollution reduction, animal protection and concerns over the amount of microplastics and mercury found in seafood, lab-grown alternatives may help alleviate some issues. To further address these concerns, all of BlueNalu’s food will be produced locally, reducing transportation emissions that come from shipping fish around the world. BlueNalu centers sustainable practices by growing only the fish fillets to reduce waste, avoiding animal testing and focusing “on species that are overfished, primarily imported, or difficult to farm-raise.”

While consumers continue to seek eco-friendly alternatives, BlueNalu is still 12 to 18 months from having products in the test market phase. The company is on plan, however, and worth watching as it expands production capabilities to accept product test manufacturing in the second half of 2021. BlueNalu will also seek approval from the FDA when ready to launch. Throughout the initial stages of development, the executive team at BlueNalu has continuously sought guidance from the FDA to work within guidelines. Hopefully, this will allow for quick approval when the company is ready to apply.

BlueNalu Corporate Chef Gerard Viverito demonstrates BlueNalu's whole-muscle, cell-based yellowtail that is beer-battered and deep-fried for fish tacos

BlueNalu is quick to recognize it is only one of three options for seafood, with the other two being wild-caught and farm-raised. To distinguish itself, the company aims to inform potential consumers about the benefits of the product, including that it will be free of microplastics and mercury. The company also acknowledges that its product is cell-based, stating on the BlueNalu website, “We believe that truthful and accurate labeling is necessary on all seafood products in a way that demonstrates whether it comes from wild capture, fish farming or via cellular aquaculture.” Rather than hiding the fact that its fish is made in a lab, the company plans to advertise it, insisting, “Labeling is of utmost importance to protect those consumers who are allergic to fish.”

+ BlueNalu

Images via BlueNalu