A complementary solution to sustainable wild-caught fisheries

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The Source
By: Lucy Frisch, Thu Jun 4 2020
Lucy Frisch

Author: Lucy Frisch

In honor of UN World Oceans Day (8 June), and in collaboration with Oceanic Global, we are excited to launch our new SDG 14 hub, dedicated to life below water. This day is about celebrating the ocean and its importance to the planet and our lives, while raising awareness about the many threats it faces. 

We had the chance to speak to a few of the experts who will be featured at the first-ever virtual United Nations World Oceans Day event. Here, Michael Selden, Co-Founder and CEO of Finless Foods, explains what motivated him to start the company, how he collaborates with the research community, and how Finless Foods is addressing SDG14.

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How did you get involved with cellular-agriculture technology and how did the idea for Finless Foods come to life?

I’d been an environmentalist my teenage years and had for a very long time been of the opinion that animal agriculture wasn’t the most efficient way to make food. When I was young I felt the solution here was to convince everybody to go vegan. As I grew older I realized that solutions relying on 100% of consumers to make a decision to buy something less convenient, tasty, and affordable wasn’t a real solution. When I started studying biochemistry and molecular biology at UMass Amherst - a school with an agricultural focus - the point that animal agriculture as it stands today isn’t sustainable was driven home even further. In 2015 I read an article about researchers who created a synthetic equivalent for horseshoe crab blood which is essential for pharma QC and that got me thinking, if they can make horseshoe crab blood without horseshoe crabs why can’t we make meat without animals? This led me to a serious internet trawl which brought me to New Harvest, the Executive Director, Isha Datar, took me in and helped me hone the idea that eventually became Finless. I would be nowhere without her help and without New Harvest as an organization, which is why I so strongly encourage donation as they’re donor-funded.

In what ways does Finless Foods work in collaboration with the research community?

Publicly funded research was where we started our scientific journey. Researchers like Dr. Lucy Lee, Dr. David Stachura and many others, laid the foundation for what we built. The key to our innovation is how we applied this knowledge to reach a new goal.

Finless Foods works in collaboration with the research community through research engagement with our scientific advisers, extending internship opportunities to students and presenting our scientific progress at international conferences.

Finless Foods closely works with both Dr. Lucy Lee at the University of Fraser Valley and Dr. David Stachura at the California State University, Chico. Dr. Lee, a pioneer in fish cell line generation, has been instrumental to Finless Foods in establishing our own continuous fish cell lines.  Dr. Stachura, an expert in utilizing zebrafish as a model system for blood cancer research, has been extremely helpful to us with his knowledge in the field of fish cell proliferation and differentiation. Both Dr. Lee and Dr. Stachura are our scientific advisors and they continue to advise our research in fish cell biology.

With regard to internships, Finless Foods provides opportunities for students to conduct a short-term research project under the guidance of our scientists. The current COVID-19 pandemic has presented some challenges to this internship program. Nevertheless, we continue to work on the logistics to enable this program while following the state and local government’s guidance.

How is Finless Foods addressing the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), specifically SDG14: Life below water? And how do you measure progress in this respect?

  • UN SDG 14 states ‘Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources'. 
    • Specifically, Target 14.4 pertains to fisheries, aiming that by 2020, globally we should ‘effectively regulate harvesting and end overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and destructive fishing practices and implement science-based management plans, in order to restore fish stocks in the shortest time feasible...’
  • As demand for seafood continues to increase, especially for highly sought-after species such as tuna, and as the ocean continues to face pressure from overfishing and IUU fishing, Finless Foods aims to provide a new, innovative solution to supplying real, trusted, sustainable, and quality seafood to the world without relying on the continual harvest of fish from the ocean.
  • In providing a complementary solution to sustainable and responsible wild-caught fisheries and aquaculture, Finless Foods aims to reduce stressors on our global fisheries so that we can ensure a healthy, biodiverse, and thriving ocean in the future.
  • Though it is too early to use metrics to measure direct impact on our ocean, as Finless still is in the R/D phase, Finless views progress in terms of ensuring a healthy number of fish remain in the ocean, to support stable global fish stocks, biodiversity, and an overall healthy, balanced, thriving ocean.

How do you prioritize public engagement and science communication with your organization?

Finless Foods has presented at many international conferences. These conferences are well attended by the research community and the industrial members where many new ideas are generated, and collaborative partnerships are formed to advance research in the field of cell-based seafood and agriculture. We take a holistic approach to fostering an ecosystem and want to help this young industry grow, as we feel that a rising tide lifts all boats so if we can help companies and researchers with similar goals that will be additive.

Finless also engages with the public via press opportunities and stakeholder engagement, specifically with civil society organizations and policymakers. In doing so, Finless is able to share information about the science and technology involved in its processes and answer questions in order to build and support public awareness and transparency, both as a company and for the evolving novel industry. 

What advice do you have for researchers who are looking for ways to make societal impact beyond their scholarly circle?

Activism is one fantastic avenue. There are many groups and organizations that would benefit from a scientific voice at the forefront of their decision making. Another is to join a company with a mission statement that aligns with what kind of impact you would like to see in the world. Most importantly, remember that everything is political and that if you care about the world the best way to create change is to be overt about the world you want to live in and to try to shift the people in every circle you live in. Prize truth over comfort.

How do you measure success at Finless Foods and what are your goals for the future?

Finless Foods’ mission is to create a future for seafood where the ocean thrives. We measure success by ocean health and so our goals all relate to changing the seafood supply chain for the better. Our near-term goals all center around putting out delicious seafood that doesn’t hurt the ocean, and to try and stabilize the precarious situation our Earth is in.

All our interviews reflect the views and opinions of the interviewees.

Visit our new SDG 14 hub to explore the latest content related to life below water

Michael Selden
About Michael Selden (Co-Founder & CEO, Finless Foods)

A background in agricultural biochemistry led Michael to focus his environmental activism on the way we eat, founding Finless Foods when he was just 26. Finless Foods is the world's first cell-based seafood company, growing real seafood directly from high-quality animal cell-stock without the need to raise and slaughter entire animals. Using cellular agriculture, Finless makes seafood without compromise on land in order to ease pressure on the ocean as a food source.

Lucy Frisch

Author: Lucy Frisch

Lucy Frisch is a Senior Marketing Manager on the Outreach and Open Research team, based in the New York office. She has a passion for storytelling and works to humanize the research published across Springer Nature with a focus on the researcher experience.