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New European Regulations Could Create Opportunity for Cell-Cultured Fish Products

Authored by Jim Pannucci, Ph.D and Alain Rostain The January 11, 2019 issue (Vol, 363, Issue 6423, p. 112) of Science reported on commercial fishing regulations that apply to the waters of the European Union. Essentially, the new rules ban the practice of throwing unwanted fish back into the sea, which kills the majority of those fish and can account for 20% of the total catch. There are two types of fish that tend to get thrown back: less economically desirable species and species with specific catch limits. Regarding the first type, fishing boats do not want to be burdened with low-value species; in the second, a fishing boat cannot collect more than an allotted number of depleted species like cod, so any additional that are caught get thrown back. The purpose of the regulations is to limit waste and the unintended death of fish with already strained population numbers. The impact of the regulations, however, have commercial fisheries nervous. Not throwing fish back into the sea means returning to port more frequently and with a smaller total catch of all species; therefore, more fuel costs and less revenue per excursion. Likewise, having to return to port and attempt to sell less valuable species also impairs the economic viability of commercial operations. That said, the demand for dietary protein has put considerable pressure on several open water species, and the European Union’s actions are certainly justified. Will these regulations cut down on waste and help rebuild diminished fish populations? That is certainly what is intended and seems feasible provided that monitoring and enforcement are in place to ensure compliance. Will the economic impacts to commercial fishing operations eventually subside? This is hard to predict. As human populations and global demand for food continue to increase, it is hard to imagine a scenario where high-demand fish species are not at risk for de-population. Is there any economic upside to the European Union regulations? Perhaps. The field of cell-based fish is working hard to usher in the next age of food production by advancing the technology to grow fish tissue directly from cells. Although still several years from grocery store shelves and restaurants, the early stage development for biotechnology-enabled manufacture of fish tissue is a reality now. The European regulations and similar ones that may evolve from other regional authorities will lower the economic threshold for new cell-cultured fish products to enter the market.

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