With the global population expected to reach nearly 10 billion people by 2050, the world — more than ever — will need access to both healthy and affordable proteins. This will require a path that innovates food and its production — like increasing the underutilization of discarded seafood resources.

Can the seafood industry better utilize by-product?

Dr. Jung Y Kwon, an assistant professor at Oregon State University, is researching how to create high protein, nutritious, and consumer-friendly food products from byproducts for the seafood industry.

Better utilization of Byproduct is a known challenge for seafood, Dr. Kwon said. “[This is] a big part of the seafood industry and not everyone has the infrastructure or resources to do that. Because of this, a big part of byproducts is then discarded or not utilized. This problem is happening all over the world.”

With that in mind, Dr. Kwon wanted to take on both issues at once, reducing food waste and creating protein-rich products that can address growing food insecurity. “Food supply is a process that really puts a strain on the global ecosystem, so we need to find a way to feed these populations sustainably.” Dr. Kwon said. “Using the underutilized resources would be the best way to solve that problem as we do not have an effective way currently to use these resources.  Tying both [challenges] together and making it something more sustainable and valuable was something that could not be overlooked.”

Where are we now?

Dr. Kwon has one important philosophy: ‘no stone unturned.’ Due to this, she has split up her overall research plan into three stages, where each step leads into the next until the project is done. “We are currently working with several different byproduct parts separately to see if one part will be easier for this type of process to be applied than others. The frame and the heads have been giving us the most promising data.” Kwon said, “We are hopeful that we can further optimize the process and get some decent quality and purity from these protein extracts.”

Dr. Kwon has her eyes on the future and a new end-product for the seafood industry. She doesn’t want to replace any current seafood products but create a new stream of potentially novel seafood products or add another source of nutrition. “We are picturing a protein supplementary type of material that can be added to products so it can have a higher level of protein,” she responded. “For example, our lab created surimi noodles which incorporated seafood protein into the noodles to give them a higher amount of protein. But we are still finding the best way to incorporate the material that will be created.”

The Goal of Feeding Consumers

With any consumer-minded research, the main point of uneasiness is in whether consumers will accept the product and use it one day. Still, Dr. Kwon is extremely optimistic. “At the end of the day, we want to create a product that is usable and feasible to the consumers so it can be commercialized after the project is completed. Consumers are looking for more novel and sustainable food.”

Seafood’s Role in Advancing the Industry

For Dr. Kwon, private-public funding with the support of the Seafood Industry Research Fund (SIRF) was vital. “This project was only possible because of the private-public relationships.” Dr. Kwon said. “50% of our funding comes from the federal government and the other 50% from matching sources, such as SIRF, that makes the project possible.

“Without these partnerships or support it would be hard to keep the project going. It continues to be important as it really shows that it is a key issue for the industry, and we want to do a study that is relevant to the current industry and society.”

With this research and the partnership of SIRF, seafood can continue to be at the center of feeding a growing population while decreasing food waste around the world.  For more information on SIRF and our other funded projects, www.SIRFonline.org