Michelle Wolf, New Wave Foods Chief Technology Officer: 'A Plant-Based Future for Seafood'

Seafood dinners were always a treat in my house. Having a delicately seasoned Shrimp Scampi or broiled salmon filet on a frigid January weeknight in Western Pennsylvania always made the summer months and trips to the beach feel not so far away. A Lenten fish sandwich from the local fish fry was a hallmark of spring.

Today, I live across the country and my job consists of figuring out how to make those special dishes I had growing up out of plants instead of fish.

The looks I get when I tell people this often betray the same question: Why? So many of our emotional experiences are tied to the cooking and consumption of animal-based meat and seafood that the idea of two millennials set out to “disrupt” long-beloved dishes seems eccentric at best.

But the more you discover about where the meats that make up these dishes come from and how they are raised, killed, and processed before they get to your plate, the more a plant-based future makes sense. It’s much more than solely an animal-rights issue. It’s a human-labor issue. And it’s an environmental issue. For seafood, specifically, the reasons are clear and abundant:

  1. Our oceans are running out of fish. Over the last 200 years, the world’s appetite for seafood has wiped out 90% of the biomass of large fish and marine mammals. Further, 90% of the world’s stocks are overfished, and that’s expected to increase by 17% by 2025.
  2. Much of our seafood is harvested with slave labor. The Associated Pressreported last year that seafood caught by Burmese slaves winds up on the shelves of our most popular grocery stores. And the human labor abuses don’t take place solely in far-away Southeast Asian waters. The AP reported as recently as September 2016 that foreign fishermen on American boats around Hawaii have little-to-no labor protections against abuse.
  3. The seafood industry is rife with fraud. According to a Time article entitled ‘Fish Fraud is Absolutely Rampant: New Report’, 20% of the 25,000 samples of seafood tested by Oceana in a study were found to be mislabeled.

Shrimp, the model for New Wave Foods’ flagship product, stands as the most consumed seafood in the United States and it embodies many of the problems seen across ocean supply chains. From reports of slavery to a carbon footprint that’s been compared to beef to reports of the use of illegal antibiotics, the total impact of these small crustaceans is huge. We’re destroying our oceans and the seafood we love. Sustainable farming of shrimp and other seafood is one alternative to these issues. However, aquaculture also has its own many limitations. We need to explore other solutions to address the seafood industry’s complex problems.

A plant-based approach offers the best solution. It’s this idea that inspired my co-founder Dominique Barnes and me to launch New Wave Foods. Every day, we’re driven by our strong belief that seafood made from plants will give consumers a better alternative. We don’t think people should sacrifice those seafood-based meals that evoke warm memories and old traditions like the Shrimp Scampi and Lenten fish sandwich do for me. Consuming seafood, after all, is one way to feel connected to the ocean. Invested in the ocean. Aware of the ocean’s beauty and increasingly failing health.


An incredible amount of work has been done in the last century to lead to existence of companies like ours. We now have the tools to transform plant-based ingredients into better-for-you-and-the-environment substitutes for our favorite animal products. However, there’s been much more progress made toward recreating beef and other livestock meats than there has been toward recreating seafood. Our marine ecosystems have been overlooked for decades and the food we take from them is no exception. At New Wave, we hope to be part of a movement that reconnects with underwater ecosystems.

As National Seafood Month comes to a close, let’s reflect on the significance of the ocean in our lives (whether it’s been beach trips or all-you-can-eat seafood buffets) and think about all the underwater life we cannot see from the beach but whose future depends on us.