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2050: Saving the Salish Sea

Localized production of cultivated salmon fosters the restoration of our oceans and improves our health.

Photo of Ben Friedman
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Wild Type

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

San Francisco

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

The Salish Sea, an approximately 100,000km^2 area, of which 18,000km^2 is saltwater and the rest is land and drainage basin.

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America and Canada

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

The Salish Sea is one of the defining features of the Cascadia region of North America. Major bodies of water include the Strait of Georgia, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Johnstone Strait, Hood Canal, Desolation Sound, linking the south tip of Puget Sound to the inside passages between Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia. All of these waterways lead to the Pacific Ocean and form a single estuarine ecosystem.

The region is of great personal significance to us at Wild Type. Justin Kolbeck, CEO, lives in Seattle with his family, and Ben Friedman, Wild Type’s Head of Product, grew up salmon fishing in the Salish Sea and its tributaries. Ben developed a lifelong connection to salmon and a deep understanding of the cultural and industrial heritage they represent in this region. His dad, who will turn 70 next year, tells stories of catching 15kg Chinook as a kid right off the downtown Seattle waterfront in Elliott Bay. No one has seen fish that big - or many fish at all - in these waters for decades.

Salmonids are a keystone species in the Salish Sea, meaning they have an outsized effect on their natural environment relative to their abundance. They are in steep decline due to overfishing, habitat loss, the genetic consequences of the hatchery system, and the impacts of local aquaculture installations. Wild Type is a cellular agriculture company on a mission to create the cleanest, most sustainable fish on the planet, starting with salmon. 

We’re working to develop seafood products to alleviate the environmental and health concerns stemming from depleted wild fish stocks, aquaculture, and deteriorating ocean health. Home to both native salmon and high concentrations of aquaculture installations, the food system of the Salish Sea is ripe for reimagining. 

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

The Salish Sea is an ecologically sensitive coastal ecosystem that is characterized by high rates of precipitation and significant marine biodiversity, including the endangered Southern Resident Orca. It is also the focal point of many social, political, economic, and environmental issues. For example, there have been legal battles over the environmental threats of coal terminals, new regulations limiting the noise impacts of large shipping freighters on whale populations, and the risks that net-pen aquaculture pose to native wild salmon and their habitat. 

At the intersection of all these issues, the Salish Sea represents the inherent tension between an ecologically sensitive ecosystem and the vibrant economic centers like Vancouver, B.C. and Seattle, WA that have demanded resources through extraction. The ample water that was once the lifeblood of our region is becoming increasingly polluted along with our food.

Salmon have been a major part of life in the Pacific Northwest since indigenous peoples settled these lands over ten thousand years ago. A reliance on salmon as a food source and a utilization of the bounty of marine biodiversity has been a hallmark of life in the Salish since its first settlement. Today, all our cities and towns are located on lands that once belonged to Native American and First Nations peoples. They shared both the abundance of seafood and their cultural heritage with the first European settlers. Many of their traditional foods, such as salmon smoked over cedar wood, remain cultural symbols in the Salish Sea to this day. 

The Salish Sea is in transition. Our wild salmon fishery is in collapse; it would be considered commercially un-fishable without hatchery systems. There has been a 60% reduction in Chinook populations since we began tracking salmon data in 1984. “It’s been dismal... for all the fishers and for many of those companies that depend on that,” said Guy Dean, CEO of Ocean Organic, a local commercial fishing company. Aquaculture continues to contaminate our sensitive coastal waterways with pesticides, antibiotics, drug-resistant parasites, high concentrations of excrement, and fish farm escapees. 

Shellfish farms that make up the other side of our local aquaculture industry, make the water cleaner because bivalves strain seawater for food and don't require unsustainable supplements to their diets, like fishmeal or oil. 

Historically, forestry has been the other dominant agricultural product in the region, with over 10 million acres under management in Western Washington alone.

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

The challenges facing our 2020 food system in the Salish Sea link our environmental impact, diets, economy, culture, technology, and policy:

Harvest represents total catch from sporting anglers, commercial and native fishermen, and salmon farms (aquaculture). We are overfishing and dependent hatcheries. 

Habitat destruction is the contamination and reduction of fresh and saltwater areas where salmon live, stemming from river dams, agricultural and industrial chemical runoff, and the changing weather patterns affecting oceanic conditions, like the “warm blob” event in 2013-2016 that decimated salmon populations. Marine habitats are also contaminated by trace metals like mercury, pharmaceuticals, and microplastics such that all of our seafood now test positive for these human-caused pollutants. Hydroelectricity requires damming rivers, which block salmon from completing their life cycle and significantly shrinks their habitat chances of population recovery.

Depleted wild stocks are jeopardizing the future of commercial fishing and job growth. In Washington, fishing generates revenues of $9.4 billion, employing over 14,000 people with wages higher than the state average. 

Hatcheries boost native salmon populations despite studies showing they reduce genetic diversity and resilience in wild environments. Hatchery fish weigh less than native fish, meaning more fish are needed to feed the same number of people. Taxpayers fund the hatcheries and are effectively subsidizing a troubled industry; in one study, salmon were found to cost local taxpayers $68,000 per individual fish. 

Aquaculture, which requires antibiotics and pesticides, is another challenge. In 2020, two thirds of our salmon come from aquaculture. The open-water pens impact wild salmon with drug resistant parasites and escapee events, such as the 263,000 Atlantic salmon that escaped from pens near Cypress Island in 2017. The negative externalities of aquaculture are incurred by the environment and risks to human health. In 2050, the systems that support salmon aquaculture and wild salmon capture will be even more dangerous for our health and more environmentally unconscionable than they are today.

Urbanization and growth challenges the whole region. Seattle is growing 2.3 times faster than the US national average. Tech firms like Amazon and Microsoft are transforming the urban population as the information economy balloons and enduring blue-collar jobs disappear. Urban sprawl has caused the loss of farmland in a trend that has led Americans to import half of their fruit and a third of their vegetables from other countries.

Intensive Agriculture is contaminating our farmland, waterways and our bodies with toxic chemicals like neonicotinoids, that destroy bee populations and cause cancer and birth defects. Non-regenerative farming practices are stripping soil, which stores 3.5 times more carbon than all the world’s trees and plants combined.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Our vision is to restore the Salish Sea’s ecosystem by introducing a regenerative, localized, and low-cost source of seafood. Cellular agriculture allows us to grow genuine salmon meat directly from salmon cells, just as they would grow within a live salmon, and eliminates the need to catch or farm salmon. 

Harvest, Habitat, Depleted Wild Stocks, Hatcheries & Aquaculture 

While these five challenges are deeply nuanced, they can be grouped together when discussing the potential of cultivated salmon. 

Shifting production to cellular agriculture alleviates the environmental and health concerns stemming from overfishing, aquaculture, and depleted wild stocks. We are developing land-based, brewery-style production facilities that will keep salmon on our plates as a healthy food source for all our community members, while maintaining the cultural and industrial heritage of the Salish Sea. 

Local production of cultivated salmon will provide consumers with a third option, one that is free from contaminants and addresses many of the ecological shortcomings of both wild-catch and farmed salmon. It will allow the people living around the Salish Sea to maintain our food culture without depleting the resource that defines it. 

New means of production will allow demand for both wild and farmed salmon to decline, and wild salmon populations to rebound. The coastal ecosystems that once housed net-pen aquaculture operations can rehabilitate. The jobs, food production, and economic development from wild-capture and aquaculture will shift to the new cleaner means of production. Hatcheries will be able to ramp down production, improving the genetic health of native salmon populations and reducing harmful competition between hatchery and native fish. Our new land-based seafood industry will keep the seafood revenue in our region and create safer, less extractive jobs. 

We will seek to expand shellfish aquaculture to increase the cleansing impact that bivalves have on the environment. We envision a low-carbon industry that will require less energy and support dam removal and habitat restoration. This food system will safeguard our waters from the pollutants that are rampant today and it will treat wild marine life like we treat wild land animals - as a cherished resource that we must protect.

Urbanization & Intensive Agriculture 

We plan to repurpose the urbanization challenge as an opportunity. Alongside our cultivated salmon facilities, we envision other indoor farming operations that support reducing both food miles and chemical use through the introduction of closed-system hydroponic farming localized in dense urban population centers. Vertical farming technologies allow us to move beyond intensive agriculture just as cultivated salmon provides relief to wild fish stocks.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

In 2050 the Salish Sea will be a hub of sustainable food production, centered on a reimagined seafood industry. The food system combines cultivated seafood, indoor farming, bivalve aquaculture, and circular economic principles for a net positive impact on the region. Wild salmon have steadily climbed back towards pre-industrial peak populations. Our seas and rivers run cleaner and freer than they were in 2020, when aquaculture and agricultural runoff contaminated waterways and dams withheld thousands of miles of salmon habitat from native fish seeking to return home. Solar and wind farms have supplanted hydroelectricity as the clean power source for the region. The new low-carbon, urbanized agricultural sector has brought safer food and safer, high-paying blue-collar jobs and helped reduce the economic disparities that exist today.

The people who live around the Salish Sea are healthier: they are consuming seafood and produce that are cleaner than their 2020 options and they are living in an ecosystem that is re-wilding and rebounding in a post-extractive economy.  

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

To feed the global population as it grows from 7.7 billion today to 9.7 billion in 2050, without asking people to substantially change their eating habits and cultures, we will need to radically change how we produce our food. To craft our vision, we talked to commercial fishermen, vertical farming companies, sporting anglers, restaurateurs, and conservationists. We’ve considered the many stakeholders, from rural indigenous communities to urban consumers to commercial fishermen and the aquaculture industry.

We are choosing to launch our cellular agriculture technology with salmon because of popularity among consumers and their tremendous ecological and cultural importance in our region. We see our company as one piece of an evolving Salish Sea food system. As populations urbanize in the major metropolitan areas, we envision our food system urbanizing, too. Our technology will revolutionize seafood production. Similar companies will do the same with cultivated mammalian meats and indoor produce farming. Not only does this shift in production create economic opportunity, it also produces healthier foods and serves to lower the carbon footprint of food production and distribution; this is accomplished by reducing food miles and soil erosion. Keeping salmon on our plates in the Salish Sea helps preserve our culture, especially our healthy, traditional diet. The advancement of these technologies will help us create a more environmentally and socially just food system in 2050.

Salmon have played a central role in the Salish Sea food system for the last 12 millennia. Our vision maintains their influence in the region, and how they connect different people and places. They are anadromous, meaning they divide their lives between freshwater and the ocean. Through their decaying bodies after spawning in their home waters at the end of their lives, they deliver vital nutrients taken from the ocean far upstream to inland forests. It’s just one of the many reasons they are labeled a keystone species, meaning that in their environment, they hold the entire ecosystem together. Salmon are a crucial link between apex predators like Orca whales, the plankton at the bottom of the marine food chain and the diverse flora and fauna everywhere in between.

Salmon also play a critical role in our modern lives all around the Salish Sea, linking our environment, diet, economics, culture, technology and policy. Our 2050 vision retains salmon as the heart of our industrial and cultural lives, but this 21st century chapter in the story of salmon is one that brings health back to our people and to our wild lands. Our technology delivers the health benefits of removing contaminants from seafood and produces protein-rich meat products for a healthier diet that is lower in saturated fats and higher in LDL-reducing fats.

Like conventional meat production, fish farming is environmentally destructive. Chemical fertilizers and pesticides pollute our waterways, our bodies and our waters. The technologies that enable cultivated meat and indoor produce farming utilize closed systems that allow us to eliminate the pervasive negative inputs and externalities of our current food system. Our vision pairs our cultivated salmon technology with vertical farming companies in the produce space, such as Plenty, Bowery and AeroFarms. As these companies scale their technologies in close proximity to urban centers, they will be transformational for the Salish Sea food system.

Today, families who have made their livelihoods from conventional farming and commercial fishing are pushing their kids to look for different work as conventional farming becomes more mechanized and wild fisheries continue to plummet. New indoor farming technologies, like ours and adjacent vertical produce farms, offer better jobs to those leaving the extractive jobs of the 20th century food system. They will also be less susceptible to the impacts of the climate crisis and they will create dynamic economic opportunity zones near city centers. 

Our vision for 2050 not only seeks to produce healthier food and drastically reduce the use of toxic contaminants in our seafood, meat and produce production, but also to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the agricultural sector. We recognize that it will be impossible to meet our environmental goals if we only offer plant-based substitutes to consumers. Our vision synthesizes these new technologies to keep produce, fish and meat on our plates, but offers a radically greener means of production.

Increased aquaculture of bivalves will help reverse the 20th century contamination of our waters. Once eaten, their shells can be added to compost systems as a byproduct to improve soil nutrition for produce farming, increasing the circular nature of our economy. Decreased vessel traffic and pollution associated with the reduction in commercial fishing fleets will also help restore the marine ecosystem, as well as reduce noise impacts on marine mammals.

In 2020, scarcity of wild fish drives prices higher and makes aquaculture more affordable. Revolutionary cultivated meat technology will allow us to undercut the pricing power of destructive fish farms and allow the favorable economics to propel the market towards a greener, harm-free food system. No animals will have to die to feed humans, eliminating the dependence on ethically compromised fishing, factory farms, and aquaculture. Investing in cellular agriculture and vertical farming helps eliminate the need for intensive commercial fishing and fish farming and reduces our dependency on hatcheries, intensive agricultural practices, and chemicals. Scaling these technologies will lead to the restoration of our waterways, marine biodiversity, and healthier communities.

Achieving our 2050 vision will require a systems-focused approach, which will bring with it enormous policy implications. For starters, food safety agencies and local governments must develop rigorous frameworks to regulate this new industry to ensure that our food is safe to produce and eat. There will also be policy decisions concerning marketing and labeling cultivated meat in order to help educate and empower consumers. Policymakers must also place value on the negative externalities of conventional food production, so the environmental degradation and human health impacts are reflected in prices. Subsidies must be retooled in favor of technologies that are healthier for people and the planet. 

Such policymaking would make organic, hydroponic and cellular agriculture more price competitive against incumbents, once the full cost of conventional agricultural products are made transparent. We also need our policymakers to address the environmental consequences of hydroelectric dams, aquaculture, overfishing and hatcheries. Policies that prioritize environmental stewardship and conservation will help our vision become a reality. Additionally, policies that incentivize community-rooted approaches, like recruiting native and commercial fishermen into this new industry’s workforce, to developing our vision will ensure that equity and preservation of place and culture play a central role in achieving our 2050 vision.

There are a number of other challenges we face in the realization of our vision. Despite depleted wild fish stocks, commercial fishing corporations lobby for increased hatchery production and wild-capture quotas. The incumbent meat industry is pushing laws through state legislatures to make it more challenging for cultivated meat producers to market their products, and these efforts will contribute to skepticism among consumers about the quality and safety of cultivated meat. Overcoming the hurdles of consumer psychology around a new kind of meat production will also be a major challenge. But perhaps the biggest threat we face is lack of investment and time. In order to stave off the worst impacts of the climate crisis, we need to act now. It will take years of technological development and billions of dollars to scale up these new means of meat and produce production. Every dollar and every minute counts.

In the Salish Sea, salmon is the centerpiece of our food culture and our vision keeps it that way. Ultimately it comes down to the notion that saving native salmon is inextricably linked to saving our culture and environment. The transformative potential of our vision will make the Salish Sea a model for the rest of the world to follow. A systems-focused approach will be required to transform our policy landscape so that our new economic development is equitable and rooted in community, so that the revenue and jobs leaving the extractive incumbent industries stay in our community, so that we can re-wild our rivers and forests while still being an economic leader in our current industries, and so that we can bring a keystone species back from the brink of extinction to once again symbolize the culture of the Salish Sea.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Prize partners


Join the conversation:

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Hello Food System Vision Prize participant,
Salvation Farming Solutions team would like to invite you for a session on multi-stakeholder interactions for sustainable farming practices and community educational programming for Friday, January 31, 2020 at 4:00pm EAT.
The conversation will be moderated by Professor Leonard Sonnenschein, Founder SFS and Tiberious Etyang, SFS Managing Director for Africa.
The details of the meeting below:
Topic: Multi-stakeholders Conversation
Time: Jan 31, 2020 04:00 PM Nairobi
Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 204 673 996
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