Fish 2.0 Exclusive interview: Neil Anthony Sims, Co-Founder & CEO Kampachi Farms

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Six seafood innovators capped the Fish 2.0 Competition Finals & Sustainable Seafood Innovation Forum in Palo Alto. We speak to one of the winners, Neil Anthony Sims, Co-Founder & CEO Kampachi Farms.

In 140 characters or less – what is Kampachi Farms?

Yikes! 140 characters?! Ummm … OK ….  We are leading the production of responsibly grown, sashimi-grade fish in the open ocean, then branding and selling at a price-point competitive with yellowfin tuna

That’s exactly 140 … but I would always love to add that we have product quality that’s been favorably compared to bluefin tuna.

What was the driver for creating Kampachi Farms – what gap did it fill?

I was trained as a fisheries biologist, and early in my career, I witnessed first-hand the frustration of managing commercial fisheries. It felt like I was refereeing the sacking of Rome. I felt compelled to find an another way, to nurture the fish that we crave – the snappers, groupers, trevallies and tunas – to work with the ocean’s assimilative capacities, and to produce a great-tasting fish, with a softer ‘footprint’ on the seas.

We had pioneered production of this species, branded as Kona Kampachi, out of Hawaii, but there were limited expansion opportunities in the islands, and we needed to get closer to our market. Kampachi Farms Mexico is now focused on growing our Cabo Kampachi™ in the Sea of Cortez (same species, new location), where we can gain some efficiencies of scale, and we can drive our fish to market, rather than relying on airfreight.

Who does it primarily serve?

The whole world desperately needs more seafood. Recommendations are that US consumers should be doubling the amount of seafood that they eat. This could lead to a 35% reduction in deaths from heart disease, and a 17% reduction in overall mortality. Those data rank right up there with seatbelts and smoking as a public health imperative.

Our initial focus is on white tablecloth restaurants and the sushi trade, but as our volume increases, and consumers become more familiar with the brand, then we will reach into broad-line seafood restaurants and retailers across North America, and possibly into Europe.

What difference does Kampachi Farms want to make?

More than just increasing current seafood consumption, we also need to find sources of sustainably-grown seafood that consumers will prefer over beef, pork, or other terrestrial animal proteins. If the 3 billion people on the planet that are rising into the middle class in the next 35 years end up eating beef, then we will truly be in a “world of hurt”. The impacts on GHG emissions, water use and land use from that level of cattle production will be horrendous. Beef is already responsible for around 10% of total GHG emissions (as CO2-equivalents).

We need a planet that eats more seafood, and unfortunately, catfish, carp or tilapia won’t do it. It needs to be a fish that is delicious and appealing, that could be comparable in flavor and texture to bluefin tuna, but which we can raise in a responsible manner. Hence, Cabo Kampachi™ …

What are the barriers to making that difference?

In the U.S., the primary barrier is permitting. This is why American ideas, engineering, entrepreneurship and investment are flooding out of the country, and taking seafood jobs with them. But the root cause for that permitting bottleneck, and the fundamental challenge that we face as an industry – and as a society – is the broad, general aversion to “farmed” fish.

We love our farmed chicken, and farmed pork and farmed beef (all of which, on a Life Cycle Assessment basis, have far more impact on the planet), yet somehow we have smeared farmed fish. In the past, the anti-aquaculture activists and anti-fish-farm foundations created this corrosive message. Many of them now recognize that they were misled, and so have stayed silent. But silence isn’t enough. We need consumers to be preferentially selecting farmed fish over other forms of animal protein. And to bring that sea-change to public awareness, we need the environmental advocacy groups and foundations to help disseminate this message: eat more farmed fish!

Who’s helping you overcome those barriers?

The Mexican government is just great – they understand the importance of aquaculture for jobs and food security. There were once flourishing fisheries for shrimp, sardines, tuna and squid throughout the Sea of Cortez, but the stocks are now greatly reduced, and the fisheries face increasing regulations. The Mexican government recognizes the long-term sustainable and scalable growth potential for farming the seafood that we crave. They have been very pro-active, and supportive of our efforts. There is still a rigorous permitting process in place, but they see the need to move forward.

You recently won a Fish 2.0 award. Without being modest, why do you think you won?

We have been able to demonstrate a commercially scaleable, ecologically responsible solution to a small, but critical part of the seafood crisis: open ocean culture of sashimi-grade fish.

We will grow our Cabo Kampachi™ offshore, in open ocean conditions in the Sea of Cortez. That allows us to scale our operation to over 18,000 tons/year by 2024, but to do so without any significant impact – and often no measureable impact – on ocean ecosystems. By siting in brisk currents, with ample water depth, we can ensure that our operation works within the assimilative capacities of the ecosystem.

We have also been able to raise this superb, sashimi-grade fish on a zero-fishmeal diet. That is a critical step – we no longer need to feed fish to grow fish. By incorporating sustainable, scalable agricultural proteins and oils into our fish’s diet, we can reduce the dependency on forage fisheries, and move closer to our ultimate goal: softening our footprint on the seas.

Is the fishing industry’s actions today commensurate with the significant fish stock challenges we face?

Fishing industry? I’m not so sure of that. If we are going to move to more scalable solutions, we need to be nurturing the fish that we crave, rather than just taking. Even if the ‘take’ is well-managed, it’s still a net detriment to the oceans.

The current seafood crisis is driven by the dual facts that demand is increasing, yet wild stocks simply cannot sustain any greater pressure. And as I have described, we need to eat more seafood, not less. Eating more farmed seafood is critical for consumer health, and for global health. And it’s also critical to building viable ocean-related businesses. People, planet, profits … it can all come together in open ocean aquaculture, if we do this right.

How can people – individuals and organisations – find out more about Kampachi Farms?

We are currently raising funds for our Kampachi Farms Mexico project, to stock our first cohort in the water. We would welcome outreach from institutions or individual investors who have interest in helping us change the way that the world views seafood. They can see more at www.kampachifarm.com, or please reach out to me at neil[at]kampachifarm.com. Thanks. Aloha.