After years of developing its unique approach to raising fish in deep-ocean pens, Forever Oceans is now bringing its products to market.
At the 2022 Seafood Expo North America, Forever Oceans Founder and Chief Sustainability Officer Jason Heckathorn told SeafoodSource his company plans to have its farm-raised yellowtail broadly available to U.S. customers by the end of this summer.
“I would say for us this is another next step in healthy development,” Heckathorn told SeafoodSource. “We had a good market kick off a few weeks ago, and towards the end of the summer we’re going to have our yellowtail products more broadly available on the market. We’re excited to be at this point.”
The company farms fish in deep-ocean water off the coast of Panama, Brazil, and soon Indonesia, according to Heckathorn who also served as company CEO until the company hired Bill Bien to take on the role in November 2021. Heckathorn said Forever Oceans relies on a highly automated remote system for raising fish at sea he developed himself.
The company initially showcased its new Forever Oceans Yellowtail at Seafood Expo North America Reconnect in 2021, a product which also helped it land a spot on SeafoodSource’s Top 25 Seafood Product Innovators list. The company offered the first public taste of its product at Seafood Expo North America. The fish was prepared by chef Mark William Allison and sampled by Brazil Secretary of Aquaculture and Fisheries Jorge Seif Junior. Brazil recently granted the company a huge offshore aquaculture concession in Brazil.
Forever Oceans products have been developed with current markets in mind, and were developed with the help of a culinary board featuring 49 chefs who helped create recipes for the species. However, their availability will be limited for the time being – Heckathorn said at the moment, the company is focused on improving its platforms and efficiency before diving deeper into specialized products for specific markets.
Forever Oceans’ product development was complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which Heckathorn said.
“We are a multinational, multilingual, multicultural company and travel restrictions made communications much more challenging,” he said.
Construction on the firm’s first hatchery was just about to begin when the pandemic began spreading globally, he said.
“We didn’t even break ground on our first hatchery until after the pandemic started. So literally we went from no commercial production pre-pandemic to now having production facilities running at full capacity,” he said. “It was difficult, with things as crazy as getting work permits for our team to drive truckloads of dirt for the foundation at the beginning. Through the logistics of getting product processed and back to market at the tail-end. It’s been satisfying, but definitely in the last two years a bit more complicated.”
Now that Forever Oceans’ development has reached a point where it is producing a commercial product for the first time, it is beginning to examine the effectiveness of its farming method. Heckathorn said Forever Oceans’ proprietary farming technology is a middle ground between traditional near-shore net-pen farming and tightly-controlled indoor recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) being developed by other companies.
Forever Oceans is utilizing RAS for some stages, but sees its new technology as a way to improve the bottom line, Heckathorn said.
“We use RAS technology onshore as the foundation for our broodstock and producing our fingerlings. We see no problem with that technology, and that’s the engine of producing juveniles for us,” Heckathorn said. “The part of RAS that I haven’t been able to break through, as a businessperson … is the at-scale commercial growth, the harvest size. Bluntly, the ocean is really big, and fish grow really well there.”
Moving forward, the company plans on continuing to scale its operations, which Heckathorn said should be relatively straightforward due to the process it has developed.
“Our systems are very modular,” he said. “So we just need to add more modules for production.”
Heckathorn said Forever Oceans has spent a lot of its time end energy figuring out how to combine technologies to farm fish in the ocean without a heavy impact on the water surrounding it – something made easier by its automation. Thanks to its proprietary systems, Forever Oceans can farm fish in deeper water and at greater distances, minimizing its farms’ impact on any one section of ocean.
Heckathorn said job creation in the localities in which it operates remains a priority for Forever Oceans, despite its reliance on automation for many of its processes.
“If you’re creating more skilled work for employees who produce more, it also creates longer-lasting work that’s better compensated,” he said. “I think it’s really important when you’re talking about building economies, it’s not just a race to the bottom in labor, but actually investing in a workforce, helping build wealth in a region. That’s another part of what we get to do.”
Photo courtesy of Forever Oceans