The $250 billion global seafood industry is facing a growing crisis.  Capture of wild fish peaked in the 1980s and has been flat/to declining ever since.  Aquaculture, which has been viewed as a way to supplement our dependency on wild capture fisheries is now encountering problems associated with feed costs and availability, waste treatment, environmental pollution and product contamination.

Capture Fisheries or Wild Caught Fish?

Global capture seafood production is anticipated to remain around 103 million tons through 2030 (World Bank 2013), with a value of around $125 billion.  Capture fish currently represent about half of the total market value.  Severe environmental degradation in the world’s oceans have lead many scientists and ecologists to predict the catastrophic loss of major fish species.  Climate change factors, contamination, and decreasing stock availability due to overfishing, in particular, have become significant issues.  As widely reported scientists and ecologists agree that if wild capture fishing around the world continues at its present pace, more and more species will vanish, marine ecosystems will unravel and there will be a global collapse of all species currently fished, possibly as soon as midcentury  According to a FAO review of the state of marine fishery resources in 2007, about 28% of stocks were overexploited, depleted or recovering from depletion, yielding less than their maximum potential  A further 52 percent of stocks were fully exploited, producing catches that were at or close to their maximum sustainable limits.

Aquaculture (Fish Farms)

Given the rising human population, decline in wild caught production and increasing demand for fish globally, aquaculture is viewed as a way to supplement our dependency on wild capture fisheries.  Since 2000, fish from aquaculture has increased from about a third to a half of total production.  Aquaculture continues to be the fastest growing animal food-producing sector, and is expected to grow 40% between 2013 and 2030.

The Aquaculture industry is facing a number of serious challenges including increasing feed costs, product contamination and environmental pollution.  Aquaculture also relies heavily on marine fish resources as a feed ingredient, but such resurces have been declining while demand is increasing. Unless the industry finds alternatives to using pelagic fish to sustain fish farms, the aquaculture industry could end up depleting an essential food source needed to sustain other species in the marine food chain.  In addition the use of wild-caught fish in feeds is a major contributor to the bioaccumulation of harmful toxins and pollutants in farmed fish.

US Seafood Market

In 2013 the US produced 2.9 billion pounds of seafood, imported 4.4 billion pounds, and exported 2.8 billion pounds, resulting in consumption of 4.5 billion pounds(USDA). The World Bank anticipates growth ion the order of 30% by 2030.  The market has declined about 8% from 2007 to 2013, largely due to increasing price and concerns relative to contamination of wild seafood and quality and safety issues, particularly with imported farm raised produce.

The US imports approximately 90% of its fish consumption, of which about half is farm raised.  Currently there is minimal (>1%) inspection of imported seafood even though about 20% of what is inspected fails. US farmed raised fish account for about 8% of total demand and produces mostly catfish.  Overall 50% of US consumption is farm raised and is primarily imported from China and Southeast Asia.

The TimberFish Solution

The TimberFish Technology is designed to solve the major problems facing aquaculture, and in particular, Recirculating Aquaculture Systems, the most sustainable type of fish farm.  The industry is facing expansion and profitability difficulties due to the rising costs of energy, feeds, waste and wastewater treatment, and increasing competition for clean water supplies, as well as mounting evidence that contaminants brought into the systems with marine-based feeds (fishmeal and fish oil) represent serious health problems.

TimberFish Technology’s central innovation is the sustainable production of contaminant-free fish and seafood.  This is accomplished by uncoupling seafood production from traditional grain and fishmeal supplies, thereby eliminating the contamination of seafood, which currently can stem from such supplies.  The company’s technology platform will further prevent any additional contamination of the environment by eliminating the large volume of waste contaminated water emitted from the current facilities.

The TimberFish Aquaculture System provides an economic solution to these problems and offers a major breakthrough in seafood production and safety.  This technology uses plant material (such as wood and switch grass) to generate a microbial biomass.  Larger organisms consume the microbes and then become live natural food for saleable fish, mollusks, or crustaceans. The unused byproducts generated within the system are recycled back to prior stages where they are used as inputs of nutrients and biodegradable raw materials.   Consequently the system internally produces most or all of the feed required to raise fish, and allows aquaculture to move away from a dependence on fishmeal and fish oil.

Fish wastes produced within the system are recycled back for use by the microbes acting on the plant material.  Thus the system is its own waste and wastewater treatment system.  Because the system contains such a large and diversified microbial population it has the ability to degrade or remove the wide variety of nutrient and organic constituents commonly found in aquaculture wastewaters.  This treatment effectiveness means that TimberFish Aquaculture Systems can operate with minimal water requirements and return clean water to the environment.  The systems promote fish health, good growth rates, low mortality, and a good natural tasting product.  

A significant additional benefit is that the systems can be located almost anywhere because they are not dependent on the availability of large volumes of clean water.  Additionally, the Technology is economical viable at sizes that allow local production, improving the freshness of the fish to the consumer and reducing transportation costs and energy associated usage.  In addition, production residues from the process constitute a high-energy substrate that can be used to provide renewable energy for more than all of the production needs.

TimberFish has successfully completed a field trial of the TimberFish Aquaculture System with the Freshwater Institute, a program of The Conservation Fund in Shepherdstown, WV.