Success Story

Penn Graduate Receives President’s Sustainability Prize for Robotics-Based System to Minimize Waste in Fishing Industry

December graduate Saif Khawaja won the President’s Sustainability Prize for his company Shinkei Systems, which has developed a robotics-based system for minimizing waste in the fishing industry.

Shinkei Systems automates a Japanese style of fish harvest, known as ikejime. While many fish that make it to our plates die by suffocating on ship decks, ikejime involves using a knife to cut the fish’s hindbrain, killing it instantly. Not only is the method considered more humane than protracted suffocation, but ikejime is also believed to lend a better flavor to the meat because it avoids a build-up of lactic acid and cortisol in the fish’s body, which can compromise flavor.

“The method is similar to halal and kosher methods,” says Khawaja, who graduated from The Wharton School with a Bachelor of Science in Economics in December. “The fish meat, instead of rotting, will start to dry age.”

According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, only one of every three fish extracted from the ocean makes its way to a plate. The rest are either tossed back into the sea or become rotten before they can be sold or consumed.

Shinkei Systems could address this problem by reducing the likelihood that off-target species would be caught and killed, and streamlining the process to avoid waste. The technology is currently designed to work with striped bass, steelhead trout, black sea bass, and a few other species local to the North Atlantic.

Shinkei Systems has been running pilots with fish farms and boats on the East Coast, and they plan to continue growing. The 2022 President’s Sustainability Prize will provide Khawaja $100,000 for project implementation and a $50,000 living stipend to further develop Shinkei Systems.

“Saif is combining the problem-solving approach of an engineer with the market savvy expected of Wharton graduates to make the fishing industry more sustainable,” says President Liz Magill. “I am thrilled to see Shinkei Systems supported by the President’s Sustainability Prize. I expect that it will have a profound impact in changing the way we all think about animal welfare, ocean conservation, and food waste.”

Read the full story about Shinkei Systems in Penn Today here.

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