By C. Greg Lutz
ow can any of us decide what science is “the best?” The criteria for awarding such a title are often quite different depending on whether you are a politician, a consumer, a regulatory bureaucrat, or an actual scientist. In theory, science is a cut-and-dry process, so if you adhere (strictly) to the process you automatically get “good” science. But maybe not the best... Many policy-makers have a love-hate relationship with science, depending on their agenda. But even for this group, science can ALWAYS serve as an important political ally when choosing to play the “we don’t have enough information – we need more data” card.
Science continues to take a back seat for many issues related to the state of our industry. In the debate over closed containment salmon culture, even the most simple of science is overlooked while people shout over which approaches are really more “sustainable.” This might be due to the fact that few if any of the participants can actually provide a working definition of sustainability. Another example of the selective exclusion of science can be seen in opposition to off-shore aquaculture in the Gulf of Mexico. One has only to look at the decades-old seabass and sea bream industry in the Mediterranean to see that this approach can be environmentally, socially and economically sustainable – even with the labor costs and environmental oversight found in European countries.
Although much of the progress that has been made with all major aquaculture species has been based on scientific inquiry, in this day and age many “scientists” must compete for funding in an academic environment. Political correctness, from a “green” perspective, can have an enormous impact on a young scientist’s career and ability to attract monetary support for research. Alternately, some scientists eventually find their way into the aquaculture consulting arena, at which point the relative objectivity of science can be easily compromised.
In terms of the public’s perception of aquaculture, science seems to be co-opted at every opportunity. Internet articles on any number of topics ranging from global warming to GMO crops to cancer research often refer to the findings or opinions of “scientists” as though they were a group of two or three dozen people wearing white lab coats and locked away in a refuge somewhere. In the public’s perception, these folks are always the same group – whether making proclamations about the ozone layer, or fatty acids in farmed fish, or radioactivity from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Until that perception of science changes and the average citizen actually understands how it works, we cannot count on science alone to drive our industry forward.
Dr. C. Greg Lutz has a B.A. in Biology and Spanish by the Earlham College at Richmond, Indiana, a M.S. in Fisheries and a Ph.D. in Wildlife and Fisheries Science by the Louisiana State University. His interests include recirculating system technology and population dynamics, quantitative genetics and multivariate analyses and the use of web based technology for result-demonstration methods.