Aquaculture Magazine

December 2016/ January 2017

So… how’s the view from where you are?

By C. Greg Lutz

Press releases are usually pretty cool.  Motivating. Inspiring. Everyone plans on being a leader - or at least they like to say so – and that applies in our industry more than in many others. Being a leader, or even a soon-to-be leader, sounds great. And it is great, in some circumstances. Like the saying goes, with reference to sled dog teams, if you’re not the lead dog the view never changes. 

By C. Greg Lutz

But being the leader is not always so enviable… say, for example, when you’re walking into a mine field.  There are many kinds of “leaders” in our industry: research organizations, countries and businesses. The necessary factors for leadership, however, vary greatly among these distinct competitive arenas.     

For scientific / research organizations, being among the leaders entails some degree of expertise in self-promotion, political persuasiveness and fund-raising savvy. There is a certain momentum involved in reaching leadership status for these organizations. It takes money – and facilities – and staff – to make money (or compete for money), but it also takes a sound reputation and the right contacts. Networking is important. It allows an institution to have advance knowledge of who has money, and for what, and when it will be available. In the competition to become or remain leaders, the stakes are not so high for research organizations as they are in private industry. Even when things head south, most of these folks (and institutions, for that matter) land on their feet.  

Countries are quite different when it comes to aquaculture leadership. For an entire country to become a leader in aquaculture, perhaps the most important requirement is political will. The political will to attain the organization, multi-stakeholder vision, and policy and regulatory reforms that foster industry growth.  Mechanisms must be established to encourage positive agendas or cripple self-serving ones. This includes those of government officials and agencies protecting their fiefdoms, NGO’s, and informed or misguided politicians and their parties. A reasonable amount of pragmatism is a key component of the formula for aquaculture leadership on a country-wide scale.  

Many countries are already recognized leaders in aquaculture (Norway, Ecuador, Thailand, Chile) and others are well on their way to becoming leaders in aquaculture (Scotland, Nigeria), while others (like the US) have made pathetic progress, if any.  Certainly, every case is different, but the success stories can serve as convenient guidance for any country that is truly serious about advancing an aquaculture agenda.    

For a commercial entity, being a leader involves entirely different skill sets. The degree of risk, in terms of economic survival, is constant for these businesses.  Competence is required in many disciplines, and all those areas of expertise must be coordinated to provide the optimum results.  People management, biological management, technology, marketing, cash flow… there are dozens of potential vulnerabilities from one day to the next.  

In many places, becoming a leading aquaculture business involves the capacity to tolerate ridicule from uninformed critics in all quarters – including regulators, politicians, “experts” and activists – both the self-serving and the sincere. The true pioneers – in offshore aquaculture, recirculating systems, shrimp farming, etc. etc. etc. have all lived that reality. Most of these pioneers in aquaculture never issued a single press release, and most eventually closed up shop in the face of what seemed like insurmountable odds. Many never reached the status of “industry leaders” in the conventional sense, but they were the first to venture into the minefields. And for that they deserve our gratitude.

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.

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