Bren Smith became acquainted with the fishing industry at the young age of 14, when he began working on a trawler based in Newfoundland. After spending years ripping up ocean floors, disrupting marine ecosystems and witnessing the crash of cod stocks, he turned his back on conventional fishing and embarked on a decade-long journey towards more sustainable systems for harvesting marine resources.

Today, Bren heads GreenWave, one of the most revolutionary and innovative organizations within the aquaculture industry. His open-source model for vertical ocean farming, which represents a sustainable and financially viable system for producing kelp and seafood, has won praise from investors, media and industry experts. And earlier this year, Bren took home the Sustainia Award for the most innovative sustainable solution of the year.

I got hold of Bren to ask him about his work in GreenWave and his concept of “eating like fish.”

GreenWave’s “3D ocean farming” represents a new paradigm of sustainable aquaculture. What is the concept and how did you come up with the idea?

The core idea is to move away from monoculture and towards polyculture in the seas, ideally using restorative species only. Additionally, we aim to use the entire water column so that large amounts of food can be produced in small spaces, which leaves a smaller environmental footprint. Finally, it’s really important to us that the food we grow requires zero inputs, which is what makes this method of farming so sustainable.

The idea came after having spent years as a commercial fisherman and working at salmon farms. I saw just how wasteful and destructive these industries could be. Then I started oystering and over time continued to search for new sustainable paths.

What was the main barrier to starting up GreenWave?

Thimble Island, Oysters, Bren Smith

There were two major challenges. The first challenge was (and still is) changing people’s mindset around shifting sea greens and bivalves to the center of the plate and fish to the outside. We really have to inspire the public to reimagine our food system and not simply conduct business as usual. The other challenge was that I never had done any fundraising before, so for me learning to raise startup funds was a challenge.

Tell us more about your concept of “eating like fish.”

Thimble Island, Oysters, Bren Smith

Fish don’t make omega-3 fatty acids, they eat them. That is why we are producing seaweed and kelp – if we also eat like a fish we can get the same nutrition without depleting fish stocks. Our seafood plate is too fish-obsessed and it’s time to move towards diverse and restorative species, while still feeding the planet the same nutritional components.

More ocean farms are starting to use your system on the East Coast. How are you planning to expand further?

We have requests to start farms in every coastal state and 40 countries around the world, and we are working on publishing an open source manual for anyone to learn from. Our vision is of a reef system comprising 25-50 farms with a hatchery system. We have the New England reef well on the way and the next in California. Meanwhile we are also exploring sites in Europe as well.

The target of Global Goal #14 is to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources”. Is the fishing industry on the right track?

In the US, we have the most well-regulated and sustainable wild fishery in the world. Internationally, we need to do a lot more, including working to eliminate slave labor, bycatch and overexploitation of stocks. The good news is that ocean farming is one of the fastest growing global industries. In the face of climate change, we have to rethink seriously our relationship with the seas.

What does it mean to you being part of Sustainia100 and featured on the new Global Opportunity Explorer?

It is a huge honor to be recognized by an organization that has been on the forefront of both environmental and economic sustainability, and these cross-cutting networks are essential as we figure out ways to make our planet more sustainable.

What is your advice to other entrepreneurs with dreams of making this world a better place?

My advice would be: don’t take investments too early on in the process. It will reduce your ability to experiment and pivot – something I found essential in making GreenWave what it is today.

You can read more about GreenWave on the GOexplorer and find more solutions addressing life under water and overfishing. Stay put for our next Q&A in our Global Opportunity Pioneer series.

© All photos by GreenWave

Author: Joachim Marc Christensen