A recent study conducted by McKinsey & Company has unveiled new findings regarding a potential seafood shortage that may be on the horizon.
The report, titled “The Next Wave: Alternative Seafood Solutions,” warns that a 14% surge in global demand for seafood by 2030 could lead to a significant adoption of alternative seafood options. This surge in demand comes at a time when 85% of global fisheries are already operating at or beyond their sustainable limits, and restrictions on fish farming further exacerbate the strain on traditional seafood supplies.
The analysis singles out five popular seafood species – shrimp, tilapia, tuna, salmonids and lobster – as particularly vulnerable to substitution by alternative seafood products.
For instance, the report highlights that tuna, the third-largest seafood market globally, relies heavily on wild-caught fishing, with 99% of tuna being sourced this way due to the difficulty of farming. This makes tuna a prime candidate for alternative production methods.
Notably, alternative seafood options also have a significantly lower carbon footprint, as they can be produced locally. The report reveals that, at the retail level, tuna alone has a carbon footprint of just 0.8 to 0.9 kilograms of CO₂ per kilogram.
McKinsey’s study identifies three primary production alternatives – cultivated, fermentation-based and plant-based products – as promising substitutes for traditional seafood due to their similarities, historical investments and market readiness.
Among these, plant-based alternative seafood products face the fewest regulatory hurdles and possess the lowest barriers to market entry. These products have already achieved competitive prices, ranging from $12 to $20 per pound in the United States.
Additionally, cultivated products grown from fish cells have attracted substantial investment, totalling $100 million in the US. These cultivated alternatives are believed to be the closest in taste, texture, and nutritional value to traditional seafood.
As the global appetite for seafood continues to rise, the need for practical solutions becomes increasingly pressing, with alternative seafood products poised to play a pivotal role in meeting future demand.
Anders Milde Gjendemsjø, associate partner at McKinsey said: “Alternative proteins have previously focused on chicken, pork, and beef yet seafood has a competitive advantage over meat as it often sells at a higher price. Premium or super-premium cuts of bluefin tuna range from $40 to $200 a pound which is a much easier price for alternatives to hit than $4.99 a pound for ground beef. Alternative seafood are also greener to produce, can include the benefits of omega-3s without the high mercury levels in fish and aren’t restricted by fishing quotas or farming licenses.”
Tom Brennan, partner at McKinsey said: “Our research indicates how alternative seafood could help sustainably scale the industry and reduce pressure on fisheries while expanding access to proteins. Yet they face significant challenges in lowering production costs to levels comparable with fish and mirroring the wide variety of taste and texture. Innovating to improve taste, nutrition and cost is fundamental to achieving wider distribution and reducing pressure on sea and freshwater ecosystems.”
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