September 11, 2023

President's Column September 2023

An overwhelming conclusion after our World Aquaculture Conference in Darwin is that Aquaculture can produce high quality, nutritious seafood with sustainable, economically viable and socially responsible systems. Nevertheless, significant challenges were also identified for current producers, challenges that affect the potential for future growth. The World Aquaculture Society is always looking at ways to contribute to global aquaculture development and I’d like to use this column to discuss some of the main challenges the industry is facing in 2023.

Similar to other animal protein-producing industries, problems affecting aquaculture relate to production costs (particularly feed), market prices, diseases and genetic selection associated with broodstock quality. Climate change is a major issue affecting production, and sustainability and potential user conflicts with local communities are very relevant.

Feed cost. Increases are associated with the limited availability of fishmeal and fish oil, and the production and distribution challenges of fertilizers and vegetable proteins, such as soy and wheat. This means that we must look at alternative protein and essential fatty acid sources, reduce the environmental impact by improving ingredient selection, support the development of genetic lines of commercial species that require less animal protein and support diversification towards more efficient species.

Market prices. Generalized inflation affects production and transportation costs and influences seafood consumption, as disposable household income becomes limiting. Low demand puts downward pressure on farm-gate prices for commodities (such as shrimp). This puts some farmers on the brink of bankruptcy, leading to industry consolidation where only the enterprises using efficient technologies will succeed.

Diseases. Significant losses due to diseases occur in all major producing species. Industry strategies have been varied, with the adoption of “survivor” lines and a reduction of stocking density in some cases (shrimp), to the implementation of disease-free stocks and genetic selection for specific traits (salmon). However, problems persist and opportunities exist to develop and implement strategies for disease prevention, better biosecurity control and early detection of diseases.

Genetic Selection. Successful programs for salmon, tilapia and shrimp have contributed to production increases in aquaculture. However, implementation of selected lines is still very limited in the industry and claims of performance for some commercial “genetic lines” are frequently unsubstantiated. It is also important to recognize that small producers cannot usually benefit from these programs, so establishing National Genetic Programs for relevant species, based on disease-free stocks and molecular-based genetic selection for specific traits, is desirable.

Sustainability and Climate Change. Over the years, the narrative related to aquaculture has focused on habitat destruction, contamination, excessive use of antibiotics and escapes that may cause a loss of genetic diversity and spread diseases. Modern aquaculture systems are sustainable, less polluting than other protein production systems and have a lower carbon footprint, so we need to promote a new narrative. Climate change will undoubtedly affect industry development (the 2023 ENSO is a present reminder) and a systems approach involving all stakeholders is necessary to counter its effects. On the other hand, aquaculture is facing challenges from other human activities. These user-conflicts, sometimes related to property rights, sometimes associated to misconceptions of potential impacts on environment, fisheries, etc., limit development. We need aquaculture included in national land-use plans as an independent agribusiness so that investors can have legal certainty.

The World Aquaculture Society, as the most relevant aquaculture association worldwide, must facilitate the generation and dissemination of knowledge among its members and society in general, through conferences, workshops, and effective use of social networks. We now offer free WAS Membership to students worldwide, have an open-access Journal that is very well regarded by the scientific and industry communities and have also made the World Aquaculture Magazine open-to-the-public. I believe these actions will help the industry solve its challenges. Similarly, effective collaboration with other specialized organizations will be vital in providing information that contributes to the definition of public policies to develop sustainable, socially responsible, and economically viable aquaculture projects worldwide.

I encourage you as Members of our Society to identify potential areas where you can contribute to improve research, technology development and production innovation, and share your ideas and projects at our conferences and in our publications. Feel free to contact me, or our Board and Chapter representatives and the World Aquaculture Magazine Editor, Prof. Greg Lutz, with your thoughts. I’m looking forward to meeting you at one of our next World Aquaculture or regional conferences. Cheers.

Humberto Villarreal, President

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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.