Launched in 2013, the Dutch investment fund aims to make fish farming more environmentally friendly by investing in companies, technologies and practices that have the potential to transform the sector.
“We think Arctic Char can become a sustainable alternative to salmon, and we see a growing market demand for this fish,” Amy Novogratz, Aqua-Spark co-founder, told us.
With this investment, Matorka will be able to begin the first phase of construction of a new site in Grindavik, while updating their two current facilities, and bringing production volume to 1,500 metric tons (Mt), with an eventual goal of 3,200 Mt.
The Iceland based producer is said to be carbon neutral, relying on geothermal energy to power its operations.
Novogratz said Matorka does not use antibiotics at all: “The fish are vaccinated, and the water comes from a pristine source that it is filtered by lava and is always clean,” she added.
However, the farm does include fishmeal in its feed formulation. “While Matorka uses fishmeal derived from by-products of trimmings in the feed, which is seen as more sustainable than that sourced from whole fish, Aqua-Spark does not want to see fishmeal being used in aquaculture at all.
"This is something we are working on with the Icelandic team. We are hoping to run trials from September on looking to see how their Arctic Char perform when fishmeal in their diet is replaced with Calysta’s methane gas derived protein,” said Novogratz.
According to data from the Seafood Choices Alliance, although Arctic char has been farmed for well over a decade and farmed product represents the majority of the US market for char, production remains quite small. The Alliance reports that the species is currently farmed in Canada, Iceland, Norway and the US, with the majority of US supply originating in Canada and Iceland. Farmers have had considerable difficulty selecting char that consistently perform well because of its complex genetic makeup, which is one reason supply of Arctic char remains relatively limited, noted the international group.
Aqua-Spark has invested nearly $7.5m in the US methane gas to feed additive producer, Calysta, and has a favoured nation status deal with the company in terms of integrating its protein ingredient into the fish farming operations in its portfolio.
The fund has $19.25m under management, dedicated to ecological investments in the aquaculture industry. The investors want to increase the fund to $400m by 2025.
“In the past six months, it appears there has been a massive shift in terms of focus on aquaculture with a lot of big players getting involved. We see a lot of interest now in tilapia production in southern Africa, for example,” said Novogratz.
Last year saw Aqua-Spark back Norwegian farmed halibut producer, Sogn Aqua, to the tune of $2.75m. And the fund also recently invested in Mozambique fish farm, Chicoa, and eFishery, a technology for monitoring fish feed and reducing costs in the process.
When asked whether Aqua-Spark would also support sustainability initiatives in salmon farming, Novogratz said: “Salmon farming is getting better and better. But it is a bigger industry and it is harder to make changes as a result.
“And while we remain open to salmon related submissions, our vision is to invest in SME scale innovative feed and fish farming operations globally. So we see investment in Arctic Char production, for example, as taking off the pressure on salmon.
“That said, we have been getting some very interesting funding proposals from the shrimp industry. We are seeing a strong momentum for change in that sector.”
In terms of aqua feed, she said, the investors see potential in both macro and micro algae as replacement for costly and finite fishmeal and fish oil resources but not for “a few years yet.”
Insect meal can work as an alternative to soy protein concentrates, but obviously needs to scale up in volume and have a low enough price in order for it to become viable.
And it is a segment that Aqua-Spark has been focusing on lately: “We expect to announce investment in a commercial scale insect production plan in the coming months,” said Novogratz.
Longer term, the investors are also hoping to instigate a series of trials evaluating new protein ingredients by capitalizing on their network of research partners. “But, at the, moment, that is a long way off,” added the co-founder.