We spoke to Brian Tsuyoshi Takeda, CEO, Urchinomics, and René Benguerel, Founder & MD, Blueyou Group, to learn more about their early-stage companies which are restoring blue ecosystems.  

Both Brian and René will be speaking at the Blue Food Innovation Summit, 23-24 May. Join them in London, and meet other aquaculture thought-leaders, to discuss the potential for restorative initiatives like these. 

Brian Tsuyoshi Takeda, CEO, Urchinomics
Brian Tsuyoshi Takeda, CEO, URCHINOMICS

Urchinomics is an ecologically restorative aquaculture venture that turns destructive, overgrazing urchins into premium seafood, all while helping to restore kelp forests and seagrass meadows. The company launched the world’s first ecologically restorative sea urchin ranch in April 2021, and has successfully converted empty, valueless urchins from southern Japan into premium sea urchin roe at commercial scale. Urchinomics is one of 3 commercially-led ventures endorsed by the United Nations Ocean Decade.

How are innovators working with species such as bivalves, kelp and urchins to produce nutritious food whilst restoring the natural oceanic ecosystem?

Bivalves, kelp and urchins are a unique category of low-tropic, low-impact aquaculture that also have restorative properties.  Most of these species’ filter or absorb excess nutrients and CO2 from the water and turn it into nutritious foods full of Omega 3 fatty acids and vitamins.

Urchin aquaculture is a little different, as it is the removal of overgrazing urchins that result in the restoration of wild kelp forests. In other words, by turning a problematic species into a premium seafood through land-based aquaculture, we incentivize their removal and give kelp forests a chance to recover.

The restored kelp forests provide a plethora of benefits, from 3 dimensional habitat formation, which leads to an increase of marine biomass and biodiversity, to binding and sequestering carbon, producing oxygen, reducing acidification, protecting from wave-related erosion, and creating meaningful employment for coastal, rural communities.

How are restorative initiatives empowering and giving back to local communities?

Our restorative business model empowers local fishing communities in two ways.  Firstly, by paying fair market prices for empty, valueless urchins that prevent kelp forests from coming back, we provide a incentive to participate in the form of meaningful income.  Secondly, as a direct result of removing empty urchins from the ocean floor, we help contribute to the restoration of kelp forests, which in turn helps bring back the biodiversity that was lost when urchin barrens initially took over.  This improves the well being of the ecosystem, as well as improves the incomes of the wider fishing community.

In effect, by making our business model available, we are giving local fishers the tools to continuously restore their waters to their original bounty, while doing it in a way that is economically viable for all parties.  It is a win-win-win for us, the environment, and the local community!

Are restorative ventures economically viable and what is preventing their growth within existing production?

Bivalve and kelp farming are some of the world’s earliest forms of restorative aquaculture, and the fact that coastal communities have been doing this for centuries is evidence that it is economically, ecologically and socially viable. For us in the urchin space, I think the onus is on us to prove that our restorative model is not just economically viable and ecologically scalable, but can also create the regulatory and market precedents for other restorative business models to follow, leverage and flourish.

I think it is often well intended, but distorting regulations and enforcement issues create challenges. What we need to help restorative ventures grow: smoother and more transparent permitting processes; stronger enforcement of fishing, extraction, and pollution laws for our ocean commons; regulated and transparent blue carbon and biodiversity credit mechanisms; and a re-think of resource management practices to prioritize ecosystem services maximization rather than profit and fees.

René Benguerel, Founder & Managing Director, Blueyou Group
René Benguerel, Founder & Managing Director, BLUEYOU GROUP

Blueyou is partnering with fisheries and aquaculture producers and leads efforts in improving the sustainability and economic viability of seafood operations, with a focus on small-scale producers and Fair Trade models. The company’s core competence is the development of nature-based, regenerative shrimp farming systems which combine restoration of mangroves with growing organic seafood.

What restorative initiatives are being put in place that empower local communities whilst bolstering production and natural habitats?

Blueyou’s SELVA SHRIMP program combines mangrove restoration with nature-based, regenerative farming of shrimp and crab by smallholder producers in Southeast Asia. Currently, more than 4,500 farmers have been benefiting from Blueyou’s regenerative shrimp farming program in Southern Vietnam, which today encompasses a surface of total 15,000 ha of integrated mangrove aquaculture zone under organic certification.

The company is currently rolling-out a global expansion plan which shall integrate restorative mangrove foodscape systems in Indonesia, Bangladesh, Ecuador and potentially, Mexico – and partner with more than 10,000 farmers to restore 50,000 ha of mangroves and harvest socially-inclusive, climate-smart and high-quality organic seafood choices. An important component of Blueyou’s expansion program is to work with Blue Carbon funds for the financing of the mangrove restoration component, with a target future sequestration potential of 10 Mil. tons of carbon – and to undertake Fair Trade certification for participating local communities.

Are restorative ventures economically viable and what is preventing their growth within existing production?

Restorative farming of seafood generally comes with low input cost and less production risks for producers, since intensity is low and the harvesting systems are fully nature-based, creating the conditions for economic viability. Paired with high quality of harvested seafood and appropriate route-to-market strategy, producers can benefit and create attractive revenue models. Blueyou sees a great potential in restorative farming and climate-smart seafood products.

Brian will join the panel ‘A Restorative Deep Dive: Optimising Regeneration and Production in Restorative Ventures’ with leaders from THE NATURE CONSERVANCY, DEUTSCHE BANK and THE OYSETR RESTORATION COMPANY. View the full agenda.

René will join the panel, ‘Smallholder Spotlight: Empowering Smallholders through Digitalisation in the Blue Supply Chain’ with leaders from JALA TECH, DNV and NOOLA REDCLAW. View the full agenda.