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Israeli Sustainable Seafood Start-Up Aims to Bring Cell-Based Eel Unagi to China and Japan

Forsea intends to introduce its cell-based eel unagi to Japan and other Asia-Pacific markets, offering a more sustainable alternative to the popular meal. The Israeli start-up recently held a tasting event in Tel Aviv and is soliciting funds to establish a commercial pilot facility. Japan is the key market, but Forsea also intends to target China, Singapore, Korea, and Hong Kong.

grilled fresh eel on a bed of aromatic rice
Credit: Liran Maimon

The company intends to offer a more sustainable version of this extremely popular dish.

To promote their cell-cultivated freshwater eel unagi, Forsea recently held a tasting event in a Tel Aviv Japanese restaurant. The company is currently soliciting money to construct a commercial pilot plant and deliver its product to Asia-Pacific, where there is a high demand for eels. Roee Nir, CEO and co-founder of Forsea, emphasised the importance of the Asian market, saying, "Eel is a really high-priced fish that has tremendous market potential. Once we decided that eel was our first market, our focus immediately shifted to the [Asia-Pacific] region where the largest market for this fish is."

Forsea co-founder and CEO Roee Nir
Credit: Liran Maimon

Unagi, a classic Japanese cuisine, consisting of freshwater eels grilled in a sweet sauce and served over rice or as a sushi topper. However, overfishing has made wild eel scarce, resulting in increasing costs. According to Forsea, the wholesale price of freshwater eels has reached up to US$60 per kilogramme.

Japan is the world's greatest eater of eel, having consumed a record 160,000 tonnes in 2000. In fact, there is a dedicated day on the Japanese calendar called Doyo no Ushi no Hi, when the entire community is encouraged to consume unagi to stay strong, which usually falls on the hottest day of the year.

While Japan is Forsea's key market in Asia-Pacific, the company is also eyeing China, Singapore, Korea, and Hong Kong. They want to launch their first commercial product in 2026 and are actively forming partnerships with strategic partners in Japan. Nir underlines the significance of these areas, saying, "Japan is a very important market for us. The other large consumer of eel is, of course, China."

Forsea, created in late 2021, now employs 16 individuals, with one based in Japan and the others in Israel. The start-up cultivates fish tissue using a unique method, producing a perfect environment for fish cells to spontaneously develop native fat and muscle compositions. This three-dimensional tissue structure resembles nature and provides environmental benefits over standard manufacturing processes.

The environmental impact of traditional fishing and aquaculture practices is significant. For example, bottom trawling, a widespread practice that involves dragging heavy nets along the seabed, releases a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide annually and contributes to 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Nir highlights the need for alternatives, stating, "The current practices, whether fishing or aquaculture, are either impacting the environment or diminishing the fish stocks. At the end of the day, there must be an alternative to this."

In addition to environmental difficulties, freshwater eel farming confronts limits such as competition with industrial growth for suitable land and pollution from over-farming, which causes heavy metal contamination.

With Asia eating 72% of the world's fish production and per capita consumption double the global average, there is an increasing demand for sustainable seafood solutions. Cultivated seafood, which is produced by growing fish, crab, prawns and other marine creatures from cells, has a lower risk of foodborne disease, no microplastics, and is guaranteed to be free of mercury and other heavy metals.

Forsea has already acquired $5.3 million in seed funding and is aggressively looking for more funds to develop a commercial plant and bring their first product to market. While eel is the company's primary emphasis, it sees itself as a cultured fish and seafood company with plans to produce additional items in the future.

  • Forsea aims to bring its cell-based eel unagi to Japan and other Asia-Pacific markets, providing a sustainable alternative to the popular dish.

  • The Israeli start-up recently hosted a tasting event in Tel Aviv and is raising funds to launch a commercial pilot plant.

  • Japan is the primary market, but Forsea also plans to target China, Singapore, Korea, and Hong Kong.

Source: SCMP

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