By C. Greg Lutz
Here’s a question for you. When was the last time you came home smelling like fish… or shrimp… or clams… or any other aquacultured product? Or any particular brand of aquafeed? No, seriously… can you remember? For some of us, it might just be part of the daily routine. For others, the opportunity for a lingering olfactory appreciation of one’s livelihood all the way home at the end of the day may be something they have never imagined.
Whether we think of it primarily as a business, or a science, or a policy topic, there are many people with many differing perspectives involved in this endeavor we call aquaculture. And many of them have never spent a day on an aquatic farm. Among that group, some are certainly more in touch with the day to day realities of production than others. And, among producers, some are also much more in touch with policy issues, markets, and economic trends than their counterparts.
Aquaculture, whether on a local, national or global scale, is increasingly characterized by disconnects. We constantly hear about this meeting or that meeting… who was (or wasn’t) represented… what was agreed upon… why it matters. But for the most part, it seems many of these important gatherings result in little progress for aquaculture – however you choose to define it.
Should we simply resign ourselves to all the disconnects? Is it an inevitable by-product of information overload? One might think that in this day and age of twitter, multiple e-mail accounts, facebook, google, yahoo discussion groups, and old fashioned smart phones, it would be easier than ever for people involved in production, policy, research and outreach to come together to address common issues and concerns. But this state of cooperation and collaboration remains elusive. The Fishmonger gives us an example of this phenomenon – a conference on fish trade sponsored by the FAO, with only a handful of industry representatives in a crowd of several hundred.
Another pervasive disconnect involves environmental sustainability. This is pointed out by our newest columnist, Dr. Aaron McNevin, in what we are calling “The Long View.” Those who develop reporting systems for production aquaculture operations can have limited concepts of the ultimate desirable outcomes. Metrics often become difficult or impossible to relate to real-world environmental conditions.
It seems to me these disconnects pose a significant threat to the future of aquaculture, for at least two fundamental reasons. The first might be referred to as perception issues – or perhaps misperception issues. Anyone who has been involved in aquaculture for any length of time is aware of the problems we face in terms of consumer perceptions, as well as how aquaculture is perceived by many policy makers and regulators. The same tools used by critics (be they well-intentioned and misinformed or openly and flagrantly libelous) are available to all of us if we want to get a more objective story out there. Perception is reality, as they say.
The second reason we should be concerned about disconnects involves the overall progress of aquaculture as a science and industry. Fragmentation – whether based on culture species, lack of cooperation among value chain players, rivalries between regional interests, or (let’s face it) – competition, continues to hold back potential progress on a variety of levels.
I’m not suggesting that we should all be so naively optimistic as to think that if we just hold hands or faithfully read each other’s twitter feeds we will move forward together into a glorious future… but if we become resigned to all the disconnects we currently face, then progress will be slow and painful over the next few decades.
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.