Cultivated Seafood

Atlantic Fish Co: “We Want to Have Our Products in Restaurants All Over the United States and Beyond”

Based in North Carolina, Atlantic Fish Co has developed a proprietary technology to cultivate fish cells that can thrive in liquid suspension, focusing on high-performing cell lines of wild-caught species, such as halibut and sea bass, and using genetic engineering technology to grow the cells in bioreactors and providing them with nutrients for growth.

Founded in 2020, the Atlantic Fish Co. recently unveiled what it claims is the world’s first cultivated black sea bass product, during a tasting at the North Carolina Food Innovation Lab. Speaking at the time, Doug Grant, CEO of Atlantic Fish Co. stated: “Developing the world’s first cultivated black sea bass is a win for our company and consumers who want sustainable, ethical seafood. We will provide seafood that is also free of mercury, antibiotics, or microplastics.”

Here, Doug expands on the mission of Atlantic Fish Co, issues of regulatory approvals and scaling, current collaborations, and plans for the future. “Despite negative press, real progress is being made,” he insists.

Can you introduce us to Atlantic Fish Co. and its mission?
Atlantic Fish Co is using cellular agriculture to develop the world’s most sustainable protein.

A photo of a fished Atlantic salmon
Atlantic salmon- © BLUU Seafood – Anna Brauns

How does Atlantic Fish Co. differentiate itself in the cultivated seafood industry?
We’re focused on replacing wild-caught marine white fish species that are overfished and carbon-intensive.

You’ve been focusing on developing cell lines for species like halibut. Why did you decide to start with these species?
We’ve worked with about half a dozen species and have narrowed our focus to black sea bass.

You’ve partnered with Defined Bioscience to develop nutrients for growth in bioreactors. Could you elaborate on how this partnership enhances your production capabilities?
This is just one of several partnerships we have to develop our products. Our strategy is to remain as asset-light as possible for as long as possible. To us, that means owning as little steel as possible (ie bioreactors and supporting infrastructure with heavy CAPEX).

“…the days of each cell-ag company building out their own pilot and production plants are long gone”

As everyone now realizes, we’re in a different funding environment and the days of each cell-ag company building out their own pilot and production plants are long gone. So our most important relationships are those that advance this strategy. We’ve got a lot going on this front, but we’re not yet ready to share publicly.

Biotech startup Atlantic Fish Co., headquartered in Raleigh, North Carolina, leverages cellular agriculture to create seafood free of plastics, mercury, antibiotics, and animal suffering.
© Atlantic Fish Co.

What are the biggest challenges you face in scaling up production from a lab setting to commercial levels?
Similar to everyone in the space, there are capital, technical, and regulatory challenges for our cultivated seafood. But they are not insurmountable and we’re optimistic based on our current results at bench scale that we have a viable path to scale up. The industry and technology are maturing and despite negative press, real progress is being made.

How close is Atlantic Fish Co. to achieving regulatory approval from the US FDA, and what are the key hurdles still to overcome?
We have to follow the same path that Upside Foods and Good Meat charted with their cultivated chicken. We will be seeking a “no questions asked” letter from the FDA.

However, unlike those companies seafood is solely regulated by the FDA and we will not have to engage with the USDA.

What steps is Atlantic Fish Co. taking to educate consumers and industry stakeholders about the benefits of cultivated seafood?
We’re in conversations with several restaurant groups which is our go to market strategy. We’re educating about the product but also doing a lot of listening to better understand chefs’ needs and requirements for their seafood programs. We want to make products that work for both the end consumer and the restaurant team preparing the dish.

You believe cellular agriculture will ensure protein security by 2050. Could you expand on how you see this evolving globally?
We have to find new ways to feed a population that will require twice the current protein production by 2050. A shift is underway to see protein production as not only a climate technology but also as food security and national security.  This all points to governments prioritizing alternative protein, that’s the tipping point.

Cultivated seafood startup Atlantic Fish Co. has developed what it claims to be the world's first cultivated black sea bass product, a hybrid "bass bite."
© Atlantic Fish Co.

Can you please elaborate more on the final product you plan to deliver to restaurants: ground fish, a whole cut, hybrid?
We’re planning to initially launch with hybrid products that can be used in many popular forms: fishcakes, croquettes, fish n chips, and ingredients for gumbos, paellas, and dips. This will be followed by the full fillet products that can be grilled.

We understand you plan to host tastings with restaurant partners. Are public tastings allowed in the US or in your state?
Yes, companies are allowed to provide product tastings to interested parties. We will need to go through the FDA before we start selling products.

Do you have relations with Believer Meats? Do you collaborate?
We know their team very well, as it’s great to have them in North Carolina. We’re at very different stages and working on different products so it’s not competitive at all. We don’t have any formal collaboration with them at this point, but in the future are open to exploring potential synergies with them and other companies in the Triangle.

Cultivated sea bass product by Atlantic Fish Co.
© Atlantic Fish Co.

About your proprietary technology to cultivate fish cell lines that can thrive in liquid suspension: can you translate this for our readers? Why is this important for scaling? Do you use scaffolding and/or microcarriers?
Suspension is the linchpin to scaling. Without suspension, we’ll never achieve price parity. Our cells are performing well at bench scale and we’re now focused on scaling this up through several parallel research paths.

People are curious about fish-free growth media for cultivated seafood. Tell us more about developing a viable solution, do you have to feed your cells similar nutrients to a sea bass diet?
Yes, there is a lot of focus on growth factors and their expense as a media component. That’s 100% true, but even if you removed all GFs, it would still be too expensive. We have to find low-cost animal-free components that provide all the amino acids and other required nutrients at a very low cost to make price parity possible.

Looking ahead, what are Atlantic Fish Co.’s long-term goals for the next decade, and how do you plan to achieve them?
We want to have our products in restaurants all over the United States and beyond through partnerships to expand distribution and access to cultivated seafood.

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