A graduate of Wharton's Advanced Management Program with a Ph.D. in biochemistry, Scott Nichols draws on his education to develop new biologically based business ventures. He has worked extensively on biodiversity projects in Africa and South America, which has given him a deep appreciation for developing comprehensive approaches to sustainable food production. He also has a passion for food and cooking.
Q: Why should we care about overfishing?
A: To start, our oceans are seriously threatened – sea life at all levels of the food chain is at risk. Billions of pounds of sea life are removed from our oceans every year. In fact, upwards of three fourths of the oceans fisheries are harvested at the upper limit or above sustainable levels. What’s more, our appetite for fish continues to escalate. The USDA, recognizing the health benefits of seafood, recently encouraged us to double our current seafood intake. What we need then is more seafood, though it needs to be provided through different ways. We must evolve our relationship with the ocean’s resources to be more sustainable.
Q: What’s the solution to overfishing?
A: If we want to continue to eat fish we need to raise them, not just capture them. The key is what we at Verlasso call “adaptive aquaculture” - making the harvest of fish more sustainable for the long-term.
With guidance from experts in both environmental and food sustainability, we can raise a super food with great care and stewardship for the earth.
Q: If fish-farming is part of the solution, why does farmed salmon get such a bad rap?
A: It is true that some fish-farming methods pose problems. For instance, farmed salmon normally require four pounds of feeder fish to put just one pound of salmon on the dinner table – what is known as the “fish in, fish out” ratio. But that high ratio places an unsustainable burden on our oceans. At Verlasso, we’ve dropped the “fish in” number down to one pound, reducing our demand on feeder fish from the world’s oceans by 75 percent.
Q: How has Verlasso been able to reduce its “fish in, fish out” ratio so dramatically?
A: We’ve replaced the bulk of our need for feeder fish with yeast that is rich in omega-3s, an innovation that has been developed, tested and proven by some of the world’s leading thinkers in global food sustainability. But that is just one of the many changes we’ve brought to salmon aquaculture. Our farms are located in Patagonia, far from industrial sites. Our pens are spacious, with fewer than four fish for every ton of water. As well, we never use preventive antibiotics. This is our starting point. We will improve our practices continuously as we discover new solutions to these great challenges.
Q: Why is lowering the “fish in, fish out” ratio such a priority?
A: Because time is running out. Almost four years ago, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) reported that, “the need to provide fish as feed for other fish has been seen as an almost insurmountable obstacle given that the amount of fish that can be produced annually from the wild is finite.” The amount of feeder fish is finite, yet more fish are farmed every year. We must find ways to relieve the pressure on wild feeder fish populations. The right choice for aquaculture includes prioritizing the preservation of wild feeder fish while also expanding the amount of fish we raise through aquaculture.
Q: What tips can you offer to consumers wanting to make choices that protect our oceans?
A: Many people ask “is the fish farmed or wild?” Whichever method, I think a better question is “does it add to the bounty of the earth, or does it deplete resources”? Choosing foods that appeal first and foremost to our taste buds is certainly pleasing. But there’s a much deeper level of joy and satisfaction to be found when we choose foods that are harmonious with the earth. By choosing to support salmon farms that use feeder fish alternatives, you can help protect a part of the food chain that is a vital resource for many species—including us.