June 20, 2024

So, will aquaculture grow at the desired rate in the future?

We hear frequently that Aquaculture will play a large role in alleviating food security problems worldwide. Today, 94% of children still don´t eat enough seafood. A demand of at least 40 million tons per year of additional production is expected by 2050. We also read that agribusiness output is insufficient and that scaling-up land-based food production is challenged by climate change, space, water availability and sustainability concerns. On the other hand, the fishing sector has not grown in the last 40 years. Many fisheries have reached maximum sustainable yield or are overfished.

Sustainable aquaculture not only produces healthy and nutritious products, is the most efficient protein production industry, generating less environmental pollution and a lower carbon footprint, and can potentially use less water and space using state-of-the-art technologies. With over 400 species being cultured worldwide, the potential for production expansion is enormous and the industry was growing at well over 10% per year, mainly in Asia. At present, however, we are not on target to reach production goals. Why is this so?

Like other protein production industries, aquaculture faces a series of problems: declining market prices, increasing production costs (particularly feeds), mortality causing diseases, varying broodstock quality, unsustainable practices of some low-level technologies, and user conflicts with other industries and human interests. Unfortunately, these problems are here to stay, and we must use our best efforts to divulge, transfer and implement the best knowledge-based solutions we have.

Recently I was invited to give the opening conference at the Aquaculture Symposium in Guatemala, a Central American Country with enormous potential for aquaculture development. The topic of
the conference was “Resiliency Through Innovation,” a timely workshop to discuss major issues facing the industry. It was my pleasure to listen to conferences from leading World Aquaculture Society Members like John Hargreaves, Allen Davis, and Loc Tran, among other experts, and to listen to representatives from industry and government give passionate discourses supporting aquaculture. So, if all parts of the Triple-Helix (business-government-academia) have a common view for sustainable aquaculture (and this happens in many countries worldwide), how come we are not growing at the desired rate? Why is aquaculture not diversified enough? Why haven’t we effectively developed aquaculture in new regions of the planet?  Why are markets not growing sufficiently?

Why are markets not growing sufficiently? If we look at the most recent reports on market trends, average fish prices will decline in 2024 causing aquaculture production to slowdown. So, we have some industry challenges. Among them, changing the narrative on social media related to aquaculture sustainability and product quality, improving marketing channels, and developing and maintaining supply continuity for quality products. At the top of the list, we need to encourage consumption of aquaculture products as demand towards seafood is influenced by affordability, local and regional food culture, and other consumer preferences.

Towards 2050, Africa will be the biggest seafood importer, due to fast-growing food demand, and Europe the main exporter to the region. On the other hand, Latin America will be the largest exporter of finfish and crustaceans, with North America the major destination. To achieve this vision, we must look at the structural deficiencies these regions have while trying to develop new industries. In the case of aquaculture, under-development is often attributed to poor or incomplete public policies. These include, but are not limited to, deficient planning and lack of adequate governance, limited use of knowledge-based technologies, limited availability of specialized human resources and extension services, insufficient value-chain investment, under-developed markets, and poor data management and stakeholder communication.

To be able to consolidate aquaculture in Asia and significantly develop new regions around the world, we need to up the ante and generate a discourse where aquaculture is considered for its own merits, and not as part of a stagnated fisheries industry. Land-use plans should consider natural reserve areas, tourism, settlements, clean energy production, etc., but also aquaculture.

At present there is a poor understanding by governments, and the public in general, of the role of aquaculture in food security, so there is a lack of legal certainty for investment. We need to develop National Master Plans in every country where aquaculture is to be developed, with specific areas for industry development, thus avoiding overregulation. Consideration of guaranteed loans by national and international development banks and a consistent policy for crop insurance will attract investors, while certification of echnologies for industry innovation will limit the risk of investment in immature technologies. Aquaculture development will benefit from a strengthening in public-private relationships in developing countries. As I mentioned in my previous column, we need to invest in human resources.

Future aquaculture development requires a systems approach with collaboration from all stakeholders, and I invite you to share your thoughts about this topic. Please consider writing an article for the World Aquaculture Magazine and sharing your experiences at the Regional or World Conferences of our Society. I hope to meet with you at one of our upcoming events. Cheers.
— Humberto Villareal, President, World Aquaculture Society

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About Humberto Villarreal

Humberto is the Current President of the World Aquaculture Society. Biochemical Engineer from ITESM, Mexico with a PhD in Zoology from U. of Queensland, Australia, he has been a Senior Researcher and Postgraduate Lecturer at CIBNOR in La Paz, BCS, Mexico for over 35 years, leading national and international projects related to aquaculture, including the development of the Master Plan for Aquaculture Development in Mexico for the Federal Government. His main interests relate to bioenergetics models and the optimization of intensive systems to innovate commercial production of shrimp (Litopenaeus vannamei) and freshwater redclaw crayfish (Cherax quadricarinatus). He has been Director of Marine Biology, the Aquaculture Program (for 10 years) and BioHelis, the Innovation and Technology Park (10 years) at CIBNOR and is founder and/or consultant to several enterprises related to immunology, nutrition, intensive production and artificial intelligence data management for aquatic species.

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