Sustainable Seafood: Atlantic Fish Co. secures new funding to propel growth

Oceans across the globe are being overfished at unsustainable levels, giving rise to new approaches to satisfy increasing demand for seafood.

One familiar approach is to produce farm-raised fish. In fact, this practice - known as aquaculture - now produces almost as much seafood globally as wild catch, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

For Raleigh startup Atlantic Fish Co, there’s an even better way: Develop cultivated seafood from fish cells. Using cellular agriculture methods, the company harvests fish cells, feeds them nutrients and gives them a structure to grow on.

“This is real seafood,” said Atlantic Fish CEO Doug Grant. “It’s not a plant-based replica. Essentially, you can make meat or seafood without having to slaughter animals. It’s much more climate-friendly and sustainable and doesn’t diminish the oceans.”Atlantic Fish logo

To boost its vision of a world with more sustainable seafood, Atlantic Fish has secured a $100,000 Small Business Research Loan from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center. It’s another step in the company’s efforts to launch production and begin selling cultivated seafood, primarily to restaurants.

Intersection of Agriculture and Biotech

Grant co-founded Atlantic Fish in 2020 after studying food sustainability and interviewing people in the industry. He and co-founder Trevor Ham chose the Triangle because of its growing agribusiness and biotechnology industries.

From their Raleigh lab, Grant and a small team develop cultivated fish from harvested cells, using a bioreactor to supply nutrients for cell growth and a scaffolding as a growth structure. The company is focused primarily on halibut and other premium wild-caught species that don’t perform well in fish farms.

Doug Grant
Atlantic Fish CEO Doug Grant.

Through a partnership with the North Carolina Food Innovation Lab in Kannapolis, Atlantic Fish is developing its first marketable product, planned for testing in the first quarter of 2024. Grant said he’s lined up some restaurant groups in the Washington area to try the product while planning for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s cultivated meat and seafood regulatory review process.

“Most seafood in the U.S. is eaten in restaurants,” he said. “But restaurants just have a really difficult time with seafood supply chains. So that’s a great place to start with cellular agriculture, having something that can be available year-round that’s not dependent on fishing seasons or availability or international supply chains.”

Growth Opportunity

Atlantic Fish has secured funding from Triangle-based Sustainable Food Ventures, a fund that invests in early-stage sustainable food companies. Grant also participated in a recent IndieBio NY startup accelerator program in New York City to help secure additional investment.

Cultivated seafood represents a growth opportunity because so much focus on sustainable agriculture has been placed on alternative meat, rather than seafood, Grant said. The nascent market for alternative meat and seafood includes 156 companies globally, according to the Good Food Institute, an industry organization for plant-based and cultivated meat.

“We felt there was a white-space opportunity in the seafood market to do this. There are only two companies that have been able to go through the regulatory process, and both of them are doing chicken. So there’s not any cultivated seafood on the market yet in the U.S.”

Jen Greenstein, senior director of investments at NCBiotech, said the NCBiotech loan will help both Atlantic Fish and the broader cellular agriculture industry in North Carolina.

“We’re looking forward to Atlantic Fish progressing in their development of novel cultivated seafood products,” she said. “This could help lift supply constraints on finfish resistant to aquaculture practices, enabling increased volumes without causing overfishing or affecting ocean biodiversity.”

Kyle Marshall, NCBiotech Writer
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