Can cultivated fish maw help endangered species?

In this exclusive video, we speak to Avant Meats CEO Carrie Chan about lab-grown seafood, and its potential role in ocean conservation

Carrie Chan heads the first company in Asia attempting to cultivate seafood for the consumer market. With operations in Hong Kong and Singapore, Avant Meats is developing products that include an animal-free alternative to one of China’s four “treasures of the sea” – fish maw.

Maw is the dried version of the swim bladder that fish use to control their buoyancy. In different parts of Asia, particularly southern China, the amber-hued organ is perceived to possess great nutritional and medicinal value.

However, intensifying demand for certain types of maw has pushed several species towards extinction, including the Chinese bahaba, and the totoaba and vaquita in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez.

Chan plans to have a cultivated fish maw product ready for the public in the near future. She hopes this will reduce demand for the real thing. But although the cultivated version will provide the same proteins as the original, it’s uncertain whether it will imbue the same prestige as the eating and serving of real maw.

A recent study revealed less than half of Chinese consumers say they are willing to try cultivated meat, and only one-third might consider buying it. There are also concerns that, once production costs and so sale price are lowered, the cultivated variety could make maw available to more people, thus stimulating demand for the real thing.

Whatever the eventual impact of lab-grown maw, Chan is committed to raising the issue of the ecological impact of the fish maw trade. Her company’s marketing strategy could be said to double as an awareness-raising campaign.

She is also keen to highlight the potential health benefits of cultivated fish maw. “It is very difficult to totally get rid of the marine pollutants [in conventional maw], but our samples show no heavy metals,” she said when talking to China Dialogue Ocean about her video interview.

Production credits:

Singapore footage filmed by: Chen Jing Lian
Hong Kong footage filmed by: Carol Mang & Shanshan Kao
Edited by: Carol Mang
Produced by: Carol Mang & Lizi Hesling
Archive materials courtesy of:
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
Avant Meats
Music: “Apollo Diedre” & “Plate Glass” by Blue Dot Sessions, released under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial licence.

This video is released under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives licence. For a free copy please contact: [email protected]. A clipreel of the original footage (excluding archive) is also available on request.