Off the western coast of Panama, near a town called Puerto Armuelles where Chiquita Banana once had a major presence, Forever Oceans is preparing to harvest and sell almost 3 million pounds of yellowtail to sell in filets or for sushi. While the eight-year-old startup’s product is seafood, its executives spend a lot of time talking about the innovation that goes into the floating cages where its fish spend their lives. The company will succeed, they say, because it has improved the core technologies, from specialized enclosures to sensors and robotics, needed to raise large amounts of seafood farther out in the ocean than traditional fish farms.
Investors’ hunger is increasing for startups with big plans for food. Venture capitalists plowed more than $39 billion into food-related tech companies in 2021, double the amount they put into the sector the year before, according to Pitchbook Data Inc., a research company. More than half that funding went to digital grocers and online marketplaces, natural targets for investors accustomed to assessing software companies that build consumer products. But there’s also growing interest in sustainable food production. Fish farming, which grew 527% from 1990 to 2018, according to the United Nations, is poised to become an even larger part of the supply chain. The UN said in a 2020 report that about 34% of fish stocks were overfished. According to the World Bank, the figure is much higher, at 90%.