New York gourmands and fish lovers can relax: fresh supplies of hard-to-find hamachi and branzino are on the way, after a lawsuit between Israel’s Grow Fish Anywhere (GFA) and its American partners, Local Ocean and Sanit, was resolved. As a result, GFA’s technology will continue to be used to supply ever harder-to-find ocean-going fish varieties, without the pollution usually produced by fish farms.
As demand grows, more fleets than ever are foraging in ever more remote seas in search of fresh fish, resulting in a major overfishing problem, said Dotan Bar-Noy, CEO of Grow Fish Anywhere. He said in a recent interview that he, along with many scientists, is “very concerned” about the possible disappearances of whole species of fish due to overfishing.
One alternative is to grow in-demand fish varieties at fish farms. But while fish farms could potentially relieve pressure on supplies from the sea, they have their own issues. Like any other creatures, fish ingest nutrition and release waste. In the open seas, that waste dissipates. But fish farms are usually located near coasts, where dumping fish waste, which contains a large amount of nitrogen, often makes the immediate area lethal to fresh sea fish. To make matters worse, the fish waste is usually dumped in large, concentrated amounts; the waste that fish gradually produce in the tank is circulated into a separate waste tank, which is dumped only once every several hours or more, resulting in a nitrogen attack, resulting in dead zones that make the immediate area nearly uninhabitable for sea creatures.
While there are solutions to the fish farm pollution issue, they tend to be expensive and inconvenient. As a result of recent legislation, some fish farms, at least in the US, have been relocated to the deep seas, which would prevent nitrogen pollution close to shore but bring a new set of concerns, scientists say, including cross-breeding and spread of disease between wild and farmed fish of the same species. Some coastal-based fish farms use electronic purification systems to clean up the waste before releasing “used” water back to sea, but those solutions are expensive and raise the price of fish to wholesalers.
Bar-Noy believes his solution is far simpler, safer, more elegant – and cheaper. “Our system is a zero-discharge system,” he said. Specially developed microbes added to fish tanks treat the nitrogen and organic waste byproducts of fish production in the tank, eliminating the need to switch fresh water for the tank. The only time water is added to the tank is when there is evaporation, but otherwise it’s a hermetically closed system – one that can be located anywhere in the world, “even in the desert, thousands of miles from the ocean.”
The system is sustainable, non-polluting, and gives the world’s fish population and oceans an opportunity to recover from overfishing, said Bar-Noy. It could even help feed hundreds of millions around the world, providing nutritious food in remote areas where growing crops or animals is difficult due to environmental conditions, he said.
GFA’s technology, which has been in use in research facilities in Israel for several years, is based on research done by Hebrew University Professor Jaap van Rijn, Israeli scientist Dr. Yossi Tal, and Harold J. Schreier, the latter two working at the Center of Marine Biotechnology, University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute. GFA was established in 2008, although the denitrification technology the company’s systems are based on were already under development a decade earlier.
GFA and Sanit set up a production facility called Local Ocean, located in New York’s Hudson Valley (for easy and fast transport to New York City restaurants), which was the first major collaborative effort for GFA outside the US. The facility produces, along with hamachi (the yellowtail fish used for sushi) and branzino (European sea bass), other in-demand but hard to find fresh fish such as black sea bass, summer flounder, and sea bream. Local Ocean’s fish has gotten lots of positive press reviews among fish cognoscenti, and one of their bass even ended up on the cover of Time magazine in 2011.
The lawsuit revolved around different interpretations of a contract between GFA and Sanit; GFA accused Sanit of breaching it by negotiating deals that GFA had never agreed to. Countersuits ensued, and by way of compromise, the Tel Aviv District Court ordered that GFA be compensated with a cash payment and a commitment by the disputants that its rights would be enforced.
With the resolution of the dispute, Bar-Noy said, he believes that GFA’s technology will now have the opportunity to develop new markets. “This is an important milestone for Grow Fish Anywhere, which sends a clear message to the market,” said Bar-Noy. “Our unique know-how and technology has a significant value and we have and will continue to ensure that it is safeguarded and protected. We are happy to leave this dispute behind us and move forward with our research and developments efforts and the implementation thereof in new future fish farms.”