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Cuna del Mar: Warmwater species key to feeding growing population

Investment fund plans to continue spending heavily on aquaculture projects with a particular eye to emerging economies.

Offshore aquaculture investment fund Cuna del Mar said it will continue spending heavily on offshore aquaculture and species development projects, as the world looks for solutions to feed a rapidly growing population.

Backed by members of the Walton family, owners of the Walmart supermarket empire, the fund has so far invested well over $100 million (€89.6 million) in projects.

“And we have a lot more to spend yet,” Cuna del Mar Managing Director Robert Orr told attendees at IntraFish’s Investor Forum in New York in late May.

Amid predictions the global population will expand by between 7-10 billion by 2050 -- creating a gap in global food supply running to to between 30 and 60 million tons -- Cuna del Mar is focusing on warmwater species.

“If you look where the growth in population is going to be over the next several decades most of that is going to be in warmwater climates,” Orr said.

Cuna Del Mar owns offshore cobia producer Open Blue Sea Farms, aquaculture technology company Innovasea Land Systems, Mexican totoaba and Pacific red snapper producer Earth Ocean Farms and oyster producer Sol Azul Maricultivos in Mexico.

“If you want to produce product close to home and it's not in land-based systems, you need technology that is going to address that particular segment and you are going to need species suitable to that environment,” Orr said. “We are going to need more species than salmon to feed the world."

In Cuna del Mar’s view, the human race should be able to use technology to figure out how to feed itself while preserving the environment in the 21st Century. Orr concedes this requires "patient capital. "

Taking the long view

The family-operated fund has an established track record of backing ocean conservancy through NGOs, but came to the conclusion that while NGOs are good at identifying problems they are not necessarily effective at solving them.

“All of the existing and emerging technologies are viable and it’s not enough, so we are taking a long view,” Orr said.

While the fund may have concluded that solutions to feeding the global population lie in the aquaculture sector -- choosing to focus on open-ocean farming -- it also sees the need for automation and technology as vital in what quite often can be inhospitable farming environments.

Finding these solutions is unlikely to be straightforward, because getting millions of extra tons of fish in the water is likely to depend on new business models that have yet been developed, Orr said.

“Everybody wants to invest in tech, in the supply chain, nobody wants to invest in putting fish in the water outside of the salmon space so that’s a problem we have to solve," he said.

Emerging opportunities

Areas of interest to Cuna del Mar are scaleable or even modular aquaculture systems that can be expanded gradually without the need for prohibitive financial outlays, particularly in areas of the world with artisanal or collapsing wild fisheries where there may be boats, knowledge, expertise and processing industries that need a renewed supply of fish.

“We think there are going to be a lot of opportunities in emerging economies as we go because that’s where the demand is,” Orr said.

Cuna del Mar also sees the supply of high quality broodstock as a "massive opportunity" and the standardization of hatcheries and nursery systems as well as health, disease and nutrition management as vital components in boosting global fish production.

These were factors in the recent move by Cuna del Mar to acquire leading aquaculture R&D company the Center for Aquaculture Technologies (CAT).

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