Eight of the 40 companies to reach the finals of this year’s Fish 2.0 competition are involved in, or have links to, the culture of bivalves – a measure of the innovative ideas emerging from, and being devoted to, the US shellfish farming sector.
“Oyster ventures are innovating and growing, markets are changing, and investors are beginning to realise the potential for investing in this sector,” says Fish 2.0 founder and director Monica Jain. “And this year – helped by having sponsored tracks from both the Southeast US and the Gulf Coast, and the Northeast US – there have been several strong contenders.”
She believes the number of bivalve-related businesses taking part in the competition is a reflection, at least in part, of the change in the demographics of an industry that’s traditionally been associated with older participants.
“Many of the oyster ventures that have entered the competition are being led by people in their 30s and 40s and are applying cutting-edge technology to both the production and marketing sides of the business,” she explains.
At a time when oyster production in the US appears to be growing, particularly in terms of value – with sales rising sharply between 2010 and 2014, when they reached $214 million – the case for investment is going from strength to strength.
“There’s a lot of unfulfilled potential in the seafood industry, period, and oysters have a huge potential for growth, both through improved production and routes to market,” reflects Monica.
And this is only being amplified by the nature of some of the current initiatives involving shellfish.
“The oyster industry has traditionally been characterised by a lot of small, family-run businesses on the whole, which don’t really appeal to investors,” Monica continues. “They tend to prefer to look for the ventures that have possibilities of scaling up and growing. As a result, innovations that can be used by producers across the sector – rather than opportunities offered by single, small place-based businesses – tend to attract more investment.”
In terms of bivalve culture, there are a number of areas which are particularly promising.