This is my first column as President of the World Aquaculture Society and I would like to thank the WAS members who gave me the opportunity to participate in the management of the Society. My presidential mandate will be short, only seven months, and yet many exciting things have already happened since I took office three months ago.

Dispensing with a chronological order of events, I begin with the (perhaps) most awaited news for a large portion of the membership: the formation of the African Chapter (AC), the fifth chapter of WAS. The AC was a long-term desire of many WAS members and the realization of this dream was possible with thanks to the united efforts of several collaborators who worked diligently over the last two years to organize its formation.

As you have been following here in this space, after the launch of the formation of the AC event in Cape Town, South Africa, a lot of planning and efforts were made, including the establishment of an interim Board of Directors, development of the AC Bylaws, hiring a secretariat to help the organization of the activities and the submission of a formal petition to the WAS Board of Directors requesting the formation of the AC. The petition was approved during the pre-conference Board of Directors meeting in Montpellier, France, and was followed by approval of the Chapter by WAS members with physical addresses in Africa. Meanwhile, the WAS Board of Directors reviewed and unanimously approved the AC Bylaws. Therefore, the date of 7 November 2018 marks the official formation of the African Chapter of WAS.

For WAS, this event has enormous importance. The Society, through its commitment to excellence in science, technology, education, and information exchange, contributes to the progressive and sustainable development of aquaculture throughout the world and the African continent signifies a new and challenging frontier. Its vast continental waters and coastlines present huge potential to increase aquaculture production and consequently to contribute to the nutritional, food security and socioeconomic development needs of the region.

The other good news is that the African Chapter can count on additional financial support beyond the startup funds provided by the WAS budget. Aller Aqua has agreed to support the Chapter as a Founding Gold Sponsor, thereby contributing to the activities of the Chapter and Society, and specifically to the development of WAS activities in the African region for three years. Aller Aqua will sponsor Chapter activities as well as future workshops and meetings.

Personally, I am proud to have signed the official letter for African Chapter formation because I have a special affection for African aquaculture since I started collaborating on different projects developed by the AquaFish program (USAID, USA) and ProAfrica/CNPq (Brazil) in several countries. However, credit for this achievement must be given to the many people who have worked tirelessly to this end. My sincere acknowledgement to Dr. Kevan Main and Dr. Bill Daniels along with the very active African WAS members who have volunteered for the Interim Board and Steering Committee: Dr. Sherif Sadek, Dr. John Walakira, Dr. Flower Msuya, Ms. Zukiswa Nkhereanye, Dr. Khalid Salie, Ms. Fatima Samodien and the secretariat Blessing Mapfumo. I am also grateful for the support of the WAS Home Office, current and past members of the WAS Board of Directors, and so many other supporters who committed time and energy to bring the African Chapter to final formation. Fundamental to this process has also been the logistical and/or financial support of NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa’s Development Agency), DAFF (South Africa’s Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries) and the AquaFish Innovation Lab. Special thanks to Bill Daniels and John Cooksey for developing the new Founding Sponsor concept and to Aller Aqua for financial support.

This is a time to celebrate but also to remember that the work is just beginning and the challenges ahead are great. I urge not only the members residing in Africa, but also all those who want to see a strong Chapter to get involved, make suggestions, send news, share business opportunities, and invite collaborators and students to join WAS and the AC to contribute to its stability and sustainability. Stay tuned, several activities and workshops are being planned in different countries on the continent, including WAS sponsorship of the International Conference on Aquatic Resources and Aquaculture for Sustainable Development (ICAR-AQUA-2019), to be held in Hawassa, Ethiopia from 10-12 January 2019.

Switching now to conferences, WAS continues to be a great leader and main reference on this subject. AQUA 2018, co-organized with the European Aquaculture Society (EAS) and held in Montpellier, France (August 25-29), was a success in every sense, demonstrating that aquaculture is one of the most important food industries in the world. The conference theme #We R Aquaculture highlighted that “we are the producers, the investors, the suppliers, the processors, the vendors, the scientists, the educators, the students and the consumers of farmed aquatic products,” together contributing to the production of high-quality food for global health and wealth. The AQUA conferences are organized every six years as a joint meeting of WAS and EAS, and this year broke all records, bringing together 3003 participants from 109 countries, 175 booths at the aquaculture tradeshow, 81 technical sessions where 800 presentations were given orally. The poster sessions covered 317 presentations in 17 sessions. In addition, ten industry sessions were organized, as well as important parallel events, such as the AQUA 18 Press Conference and a special session convened by the FAO on “Advancing Integrated Agriculture-Aquaculture Through Agroecology.” Over four days, participants had the opportunity to learn about new aquaculture discoveries and technologies in a very diverse scientific program and to meet colleagues and friends to exchange experiences. The high point of the social program was the fantastic reception at the Chateau Flaugergues!

The conference Latin American and Caribbean Aquaculture 2018 (LACQUA 18), VIII Colombian Congress of Aquaculture (VIII CCA) and South American Regional Aquaculture (SARA 2018) was co-organized by the Latin American and Caribbean Chapter of WAS (LACC), the Colombian Federation of Aquaculturists (FEDEACUA) and the Universidad Nacional de Colombia in Bogotá (October 23-26). The brand LACQUA was established in 2013 and today is recognized as one of the main aquaculture events in Latin America, congregating a growing number of participants and exhibitors. In each edition, LACQUA brings together renowned national and foreign speakers, academics, students, farmers, extensionists, exhibitors, and representatives from government, industries and associations to discuss the recent advances and challenges of sustainable aquaculture in the region. The event had 1609 participants registered in different categories from 37 countries. A total of 511 scientific presentations were given, 330 oral and 181 posters. The trade show was also successful, with 43 companies exhibiting their products and services. The conference also held side events, such as meetings organized by UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organization), FEDEACUA and the Colombian Academic Association of Aquaculture.

Another important piece of information for one of the central segments of our membership is a new award approved by the Board of Directors in Montpellier called the Industry Impact Award (IIA), proposed originally by Graham Mair, a Past-President of WAS. The IIA is focused on acknowledging contributions to aquaculture by and for industry, aiming to improve WAS engagement with commercial aquaculture industries and potentially attract new industry members to WAS. Therefore, by the time you read this, the call for nominations will be issued and I expect the WAS membership to get involved nominating distinguished individuals for the three categories of this awards. Please check the Call for Nominations for details.

Recently WAS took another step to recognize the outstanding work that our Home Office staff have been doing for many years. Past-president Bill Daniels tasked the Finance and LongRange Planning Committee to develop a plan to offer health insurance for our staff and recently this action came to fruition. A QSEHRA (Qualified Small Employer Health Reimbursement Arrangement) plan was developed and Carol Mendoza and Judy Andrasko are now receiving benefits. Thanks to Treasurer Dr. Wendy Sealey, John Cooksey and the members of the Committee for this important accomplishment.

To close this long column, I would like to remind everyone that WAS will commemorate its 50th and LACC its 25th anniversaries in 2019, and exciting celebrations are being planned throughout the year, starting at AQUACULTURE 2019 in New Orleans, USA (March 7-11). The Honors and Awards Committee considered that this is the right moment to implement ways to acknowledge members who have contributed to the Society for a long time, and I am proud to announce that members with more than 50 years of membership will be recognized during the President’s reception and members with more than 25 years will receive a pin and certificate at the WAS booth in New Orleans. It is time to remember and celebrate the contributions that WAS and its members have made for aquaculture growth around the world. Don’t miss the opportunity to get involved and be part of the prosperous future of WAS! — Maria Célia Portella, President