The World Aquaculture Society, at 50 years, is quite young compared to many other prominent professional societies, reflecting the relative newness of the field. The American Fisheries Society was formed in 1870 and the National Shellfisheries Association was established in 1908. Aquaculture as an area of scientific inquiry is rather young. The premier journal in the field, Aquaculture, published its first issue in 1972, not long after WAS was established.

In hindsight, it seems presumptuous, perhaps even arrogant, that the founders of our Society used the word “World” in naming what was then not even a national organization but really only a loose regional network based in the southeastern US. From the beginning, the effort has been always to expand the organization and to make it truly global to live up to the “World” in the name. There was difficult work in the early years to negotiate the relationship with the European Aquaculture Society, which justifiably was concerned about appropriation of the “World” moniker by the fledgling World Mariculture Society.

Every WAS president and member of the Board of Directors has taken seriously the goal of becoming more truly representative of the global nature of aquaculture. The first conferences in Bangkok (1996) and Beijing (2002) were important milestones. The Society has undergone a continuous process of decentralization. The Society has or had affiliates and associations with which it has had some kind of relationship starting in the mid-1970s. The chapter concept started in the late 1980s. WAS is the parent society that continues to spawn chapters, most recently in Africa.

Although WAS remains largely a North American organization, for the most part, the goal of becoming a global society has been met, although much more work remains to be done. At the plenary of the Aquaculture 89 conference in Los Angeles, Chua Thia-Eng, then of ICLARM, showed a graph that plotted number of scientific publications by country of first author on the x-axis and the level of aquaculture production on the y-axis and each data point represented a country. The general trend was an inverse relationship. Most of the aquaculture science was produced in the developed countries of North America and Europe and most of the aquaculture production (then as now) was located in countries that at that time had yet to develop a serious academic infrastructure to study research questions related to aquaculture.

Certainly a lot has changed since then but I suspect the general trend remains the same. Developed countries of the Global North are the generators of aquaculture science and technology and the major producing nations in the developing world are the consumers of that information. In Asia, aquaculture developed with traditional knowledge passed down across generations. In the West, aquaculture developed hand-in-hand with agricultural and fisheries research. Most scientist-members of WAS developed their research in direct support of commercial aquaculture.

Membership in WAS from Asian countries continues to lag behind relative to their importance as producing countries. It is possible that this is largely a function of the language barrier, although that is changing with shifts in the academic establishment in countries like China, where a new generation of scientists are now expected and required to publish in the English-language peer-reviewed literature to advance their careers. The relationship with potential members in Asia has been moving in the right direction but more is needed, especially in China, India and other aquaculture powerhouses in Asia.

One of the most impressive things about WAS has been the volunteer spirit that has fueled development of the Society. In the 1970s, aquaculturists were by nature idealistic, envisioning the positive role aquaculture can play in food security and economic development, a sentiment that continues to prevail today. That idealism motivated people to get involved to build the organization to serve aquaculture development in all its forms. That altruistic volunteerism, while laudable, also limited the professionalization of the organization, a need that ultimately became obvious and necessary. The growing pains and turmoil of the early years of the Society and a financial crisis in the early 1990s were addressed and stabilized when an executive director was hired in 1996. An executive director supported by volunteers is now the model for how the Society functions.

WAS has embraced the broad diversity of aquaculture — in its species, culture systems, intensity levels, and specific geographies. In the early years, WAS meetings were only plenary and everyone shared their experiences and aquaculturists were more generalized. Things were organized but relatively informal. Now, aquaculture has become much more fragmented and specialized as a science, and there is a tendency toward siloing and talking to a relatively small group of one’s peers. I don’t say this necessarily out of any sense of nostalgia; it’s been a natural progression that will likely continue.

WAS Past-President Graham Mair challenged us to think about the “value proposition” of WAS membership. To me, WAS is the home base for people who take a global view of aquaculture, or at least look at it with a wide lens. There are no doubt many more stakeholders involved with national or regional associations than a global organization like WAS. But for those who seek to network with like-minded, broad-thinking global aquaculturists, WAS is the place to be. — John A. Hargreaves, Editor-in-Chief