Inside efforts to make fishing more sustainable

Ian Falconer, Founder and CEO, Fishy Filaments.
Fishy Threads Ltd

  • Fishing provides food and jobs, but fish stocks are being depleted and ecosystems are damaged.
  • Venture capitalists poured $238m into the sector last year, but founders need much more than that.
  • This article is part ofblue economy’, a series that explores how humanity uses and preserves the ocean ecosystem. For more climate action news, visit Insider’s website one planet center.

Daniel Watson’s company, SafetyNet Technologies, has run out of money nearly six times.

When he started a London-based company – which works to find ways to make fishing more sustainable – in 2011, Funding for ocean conservation appears to be lacking.

SafetyNet weathered a variety of grants, awards, crowdfunding and bootstrapping before raising £1.1m, or about $1.3m, from a venture capital round in 2020 that took two years to close, in part because of a lack of investor appetite.

some 3 billion people Rely on the ocean for food, while 58.5 million people All over the world working in the fishing industry or related jobs. But poaching left some depletion of fish stocks, While destructive hunting practices such as Dredging has damaged ecosystems.

This adds to the threats the oceans already face, including effects of the climate crisisbiodiversity loss and pollution.

In order to face these challenges, European Union Other world leaders are pushing for science-based fishing practices to ensure fish populations are maintained.

Daniel Watson Dan holds a CatchCam.
Eric Lee

them too you want to see Reducing bycatch, which is known in the fishing industry as unwanted fish or other marine animals unintentionally caught and killed, and improving data collection to make the industry more sustainable. For fisheries, more data ultimately means they can be more accurate, efficient and cost-effective.

Start-ups like Watson’s, which operate at the intersection of ocean conservation and precision fishing, are positioning themselves as part of the solution.

SafetyNet products include the Pisces Device, a device that repels unwanted fish species to avoid bycatch, which won an award James Dyson Award 2012; CatchCam, an underwater camera system; Enki, an underwater sensor.

Two fishermen look at underwater footage provided by SafetyNet Technologies’ CatchCam.
Safetynet Technologies

Fishing technology is often overlooked by venture capitalists who favor aquaculture startups, which refers to farming fish, shellfish and algae rather than catching wild stocks.

Venture capitalists poured a record $550m into the aquaculture sector last year, more than double the $238m that went into the traditional fishing sectors, according to Pitchbook.

“Fishing should be competitive in terms of ocean finance along with all these things like aquaculture, algae and seaweed, plastic removal and carbon removal,” Watson said.

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However, Ed Phillips, an investor at Future Planet Capital who heads the company’s ocean fund, said that “traditional fishing is a really important part of human nutrition and it’s not going away.”

Phillips, who invests in the traditional and aquaculture markets, is keen on companies that bring technology and data to the ocean, such as those that map more efficient fishing methods.

“In the traditional fishing market, your customers are traditionally relatively small and don’t necessarily have huge amounts of capital to deploy new technologies, but we’ve seen entrepreneurs create very good businesses that are often equipped to serve those customers,” he said.

Participants of an aquaculture conference inspect fish farms on the Peljesac Peninsula near Dubrovnik, Croatia, in 2010.
Given Ruvik/Reuters

Building hardware for the harsh ocean

Investors often prefer software over hardware, since the latter is typically more expensive, has long lead times, and is difficult to scale due to hardware that needs testing and iteration.

Of the ocean, Watson said ocean technology faces the added challenge of “dealing with this chemical-rich liquid that basically eats everything that gets into it.” And depending on how deep the technology goes, it must also be able to withstand the atmospheric pressure of the oceans.

Case in point: It took Courtney Obchough, a former associate administrator at NASA, six years to bring her data-gathering buoy to market. The device tracks the location and movement of lost and discarded fishing gear, which it makes up 10% of global marine plastic pollution.

Blue Ocean Gear CEO Courtney Obchough on a boat.
blue ocean equipment

While the ships on which Obchough sailed aren’t lacking in technology — they “look like the cockpits of a 747,” she said — the marine environment is harsh.

“People think of buoys floating very gently on the surface,” Obchough said.

“No, it’s in the Bering Sea, and it’s being pulled down 1,000 feet. It’s in hurricanes, and it hits the deck. To make something that’s really powerful but also works the way the fisherman wants it to be, that’s not it.” clear.”

Obchough said Blue Ocean Gear’s floats have additional sensors to contribute to climate research, which benefits anglers because they get more accurate predictions of where they’re actually fishing.

Investors are still interested in ocean technology startups despite the high cost of developing, testing and selling the equipment. in August, Ava Ocean got €10 millionor about $10.8 million, for seafloor precision harvesting from the seafood-focused Ocean 14 Capital fund.

Marin Hjworth Power, a “blue economy” investor and member of the board of directors for Ava Ocean, said the startup’s technology can move fisheries away from destructive dredging practices and thus open up waters where fishing has been restricted as a result of harmful practices.

A 3D-printed Nutcracker made from recycled fishing nets.
Fishy Threads Ltd

There are plenty of opportunities on Earth, too. Hayworth Power would like to see more mainstream fishing and is excited about companies that make use of its waste, such as the Icelandic company Kerecis, which uses cod skin to treat wounds and has been Recently acquired for $1.3 billion.

Cornwall-based company Fishy Filaments has developed a way to recycle plastic from fishing nets into new products, but it is still in the early stages. The technology could be applied to other plastics such as food packaging, but the company’s founder and CEO, Ian Falconer, sees greater opportunity in fishing despite the challenges he faces.

“It’s valuable enough and global enough for us to get into it, but it’s not really locked into long-term contracts,” he said. “So I’m not going to enter and compete with multi-billion dollar industries right away. I’m competing with a number of other small and medium-sized companies that are regional rather than global.”

Blue Ocean Gear’s data-gathering buoy.
blue ocean equipment

Hunting for finance

But Falconer competes with crowded tech sectors in pursuit of venture capital. Falconer, who started in 2016, said fund analysts are currently focusing on software, artificial intelligence and “relatively fast turnaround” technologies.

“Sometimes we need to remind people that change only happens in the physical world. Carbon dioxide is a physical manifestation of physical actions,” he added.

Watson said the main funding gap comes from a dearth of strategic investors. strategy or Corporate investors play big roles In other capital-intensive industries, provide patient capital, industry knowledge, and contacts.

“The fishing sector has the potential to do a lot of good, and continue to do a lot of good and better, in fact,” he said. “Management is changing, organization is changing, but the strategies haven’t pulled out their fingers to actually help people help them.”

Family offices can provide some relief, Hayworth Power said, while private equity is also an option for later-stage companies with hardware and other physical assets.

Without an influx of money, fishing technology may face a brain drain. Watson said his peers are dedicated to solving their piece of the puzzle, but a lack of funding means talent is forced to go elsewhere. “This is a tragedy from my point of view,” he said.

There is hope that the tide will turn. Hayworth Power said people now understand the relationship between climate, biodiversity and the oceans.

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