x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

GM salmon sends biotech company's shares leaping

Salmon may leap, but none so high as the share price of Aqua Bounty Technologies.

Salmon may leap, but none so high as the share price of Aqua Bounty Technologies. The company's stock added more than 50 per cent in London yesterday as its enormous fish became the first genetically modified animal deemed safe for human consumption by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Aqua Bounty's "AquAdvantage" salmon grows twice as fast as its naturally reared cousins, offering big commercial advantages to fish farmers.

The breakthrough is expected to be a boon for fish farmers all over the world, many of whom are struggling. The UAE-based fish farmer Asmak is one such company. Its shares lost 3.64 per cent in Abu Dhabi yesterday, capping a 51 per cent decline in the year so far. The UAE produces 14,169kg of frozen salmon every year, according to the US National Marine Fisheries Service, which monitors fish production worldwide.

But the UAE imports a much larger amount of salmon from fisheries in Canada, the UK and Japan. Aqua Bounty shares yesterday closed up 51.75 per cent at £23 on the London Stock Exchange, adding more than £4 million (Dh22.6m) to its market value. The rise caps a share price increase of 283.33 per cent so far this year. In a report released last Friday after the London market closed, the FDA said the modified salmon was "as safe to eat as food from other Atlantic salmon" and that it saw "no biologically relevant differences".

The fish are "highly unlikely" to cause significant harm to the environment, the report added. Yesterday marked the first day traders were able to buy on the report's findings since its release. A public meeting is scheduled to take place on September 19 to determine whether the AquAdvantage salmon will hit the shelves in the US. Food safety advocates disputed the scientific basis behind the decision.

"The FDA is basically just assuming these fish are OK to eat," said Jaydee Hanson, a policy analyst for the non-profit Centre for Food Safety. Mr Hanson told Reuters the company's testing was "one of the smallest samples of fisheries research that I've seen". But stock market analysts were more optimistic about the commercial potential of the FDA's decision. Aqua Bounty's stock has moved dramatically in the past year, rising 275 per cent.

The announcement follows 15 years the company spent swimming against a stream of regulators and environmentalists. In 2008, it launched a restructuring to preserve its cash and endure the final stages of FDA approval leading to a US$4.8m (Dh17.6m) net loss last year. Ronald Stotish, the chief executive of Aqua Bounty, told Reuters the salmon tastes "great". @Email:gregor.hunter@thenational.ae