How Seatopia Is Pioneering Regenerative Aquaculture For The Direct-To-Consumer Market
For many of us, watching the Netflix documentary ‘Seaspiracy’ may have soured us on the idea of eating seafood altogether.
So I was delighted to come across Seatopia, a direct-to-consumer subscription box focused on farm-to-table seafood, providing gourmet sushi-grade seafood nationwide, delivered in plastic and styrofoam-free packaging.
I caught up with James Smith, the Co-Founder, to find out more about the company and their journey.
Afdhel Aziz: James, welcome! Can you please describe what SEATOPIA is for us?
James Smith: We are essentially the ButcherBox of seafood. For our members, we make it fun and easy to eat certified mercury-safe and truly sustainable seafood transparently sourced directly from artisan farms we’ve come to know and trust. It's a guilt-free sushi-grade seafood experience for anyone who cares where their food comes from and wants to vote with their fork for the Future of Food.
For the $150B US seafood market, we represent disintermediation of a traditionally commoditized supply chain. At the core, SEATOPIA is a market-driven approach to supporting regenerative aquaculture, a transparent sales channel that directly incentivizes triple bottom line business practices.
Aziz: Very cool! How did the idea for SEATOPIA come about?
Smith: Having previously helped build an organic food CPG brand which began selling D2C, eventually expanding through distributors nationwide into Whole Foods Markets, I was keenly aware of the value of speaking directly to our customer versus selling through distributors. After we sold that venture and I got involved with aquaculture, I immediately saw the challenge producers faced selling through archaic commodity seafood distribution channels.
In 2016, I founded a vertically aligned distribution company (Omega Blue Seafood) connecting farm-to-table restaurants with whole fresh seafood from artisan aquaculture farms. Gaining the support of Michelin star Chefs helped pave the way for what I always knew would be the next step in a scaling story-driven, farm-to-table princled market for aquaculture.
However, it was not until Covid shut down our restaurant clients that I had the time to resolve the logistical and ethical issues of putting “sustainable” seafood in plastic and styrofoam containers needed to ship directly to consumers. The quarantine enabled me to not only spend the time testing compostable plastic and styrofoam alternatives, it also played a direct role in shifting consumer behaviour around ordering food online.
Aziz: Thank you for sharing that journey. Please tell us about some of the amazing aquaculture farms you work with?
Smith: Personally visiting aquaculture farms for nearly a decade, swimming in and under the pens where fish are raised, eating the feed fed to the fish and learning as much as I can has been invaluable. However, only working with farms that have been through a third party audit or certification for sustainable management of farm workers, animal welfare and environmental impact helps quantify the impact. Furthermore, we can back up cleanliness and safety claims with third-party laboratory testing. We submit a sample of every lot harvested for SEATOPIA to lab tests capable of quantifying levels of mercury, antibiotics, microplastics, PCBs etc. The resulting Certificates of Analysis enable SEATOPIA to verify for example that none of the products produced for us have more than 0.1 PPM of Mercury, and often far less.
For example we work with an amazing scallop farm in Peru called Acuapesa that breeds and grows out sushi-grade scallops in hanging lantern baskets, so unlike bottom feeding scallops, these scallops are filter feeding in the mid water column resulting in an exceptionally pristine product.
Our shrimp are bred and raised by Sun Shrimp in a land-based bio-secure recirculating aquaculture site in Florida where they have never had any diseases (certified Specific Pathogen Free by the USDA).
Glitne Halibut is another land based aquaculture project we support that's based in Norway which also happens to produce the most incredible cold smoked halibut we’ve ever encountered.
Seatopia’s Rainbow Trout are raised on land, in raceways fed by their namesake Chalkstream river which is subsequently filtered and recycled cleaner than it began.
Our Atlantic Salmon also come from Norway, via NordicBlu where they are raised in Skjerstadfjorden, connected to the Saltstraumen, a Fjord renowned to have the most powerful tidal currents in the world creating perhaps the most ideal environment on Earth to raise Atlantic Salmon.
Our Chef’s favorite, award winning Ora King Salmon Pacific King Salmon comes from Marlborough Sound in New Zealand. We also work with Petuna, a Steelhead or Ocean Trout farm in Tasmania.
And our Kanpachi come from Omega Azul, raised in the turquoise waters of La Paz in the Sea of Cortez.
Aziz: They all look amazing, and I hope people check them out! Please tell us about the reaction from some of the chefs you work with, and from your customers?
Smith: Michelin star Chefs have featured our whole fresh products on their menus for years. So when SEATOPIA launched, they became our Ambassadors helping affirm the gourmet quality of our new super-frozen, sushi-grade portions, extolling praises on social media for the convenience of working with such unique products at home or when traveling offsite.
From there word of mouth spread to private Chefs, then gourmet foodies, and now we are starting to see significant growth from what I believe will eventually constitute the base of our customer’s; health conscious women, pregnant and or breastfeeding moms and keto/paleo meal-planners who value the convenience and confidence derived from working with certified mercury-safe, sushi-grade pre-portioned seafood. Word of mouth referrals from customers sharing the joy and excitement of the SEATOPIA experience with their friends, family and neighbors has been huge for us.
Aziz: Finally, in the wake of documentaries like Seaspiracy, do you hope this starts a new conversation about sustainable aquaculture?
Smith: The world is waking to the short-sightedness of industrial scale hunting wild-caught seafood. As Jacques Cousteau once said, “We must learn to plant the sea and herd it's animals using the sea as farmers instead of hunters. That is what civilization is all about - farming replacing hunting.”
I’d clarify that we should farm in the example of regenerative agriculture, not industrial scale monocultures. I commend Seaspiracy for fanning the conversation about critically important issues that have our oceans on the brink of environmental collapse. Clearly shock and awe have a place in tabloid culture. However vegan propaganda films intentionally omit solutions other than abstinence. SEATOPIA exists to catalyze the growth of real world solutions.