By C. Greg Lutz
Remember the story about the three stonecutters? A child approaches the first one and asks what he is doing. The man says, “I am cutting a stone.” Not satisfied with such a simple response, the child walks over to the second stonecutter and asks the same question. This craftsman explains, “I’m cutting and re-cutting this block to make it square so it will fit exactly where it should go in the wall here.” The child, now intrigued, approaches the third stonecutter and asks what he is working on. The man grins and replies, “I am building a cathedral.”
How we perceive what it is we do makes a fundamental difference in how we do it. Most of us know what it is we do, more or less. Things like marketing, or education, or certification, or construction, or production, or disease diagnosis….. the list goes on and on. But… why? Well, a general response is something like “to make a living.” But who pays your salary? Where does the money come from to generate all these aquaculture-related careers? Is there someone out there doing what you do… but perhaps just a little bit (or a lot) better?
This issue has a lot of examples of how people in aquaculture approach what they need to get done. Aquabounty, for example, jumped through every hoop in the permitting process for their genetically enhanced salmon, answered every baseless criticism, provided every bit of data demanded, and persevered. Unfortunately for them, in some sense, now comes the REALLY hard part – convincing consumers that they are offering a wholesome, sustainable product in spite of the misinformation many critics are disseminating.
The same could be said for the FDA reviewers involved in the review evaluation and approval of this transgenic product – they stuck to the science. The best available science. And they were true to their mission, which was to make unbiased determinations based on available facts.
Producers of shrimp and tilapia in Brazil are forward thinking: looking for better methods, better genetics, better marketing. It’s not the case that they are just raising and selling fish and shrimp. Several latitudes away, many folks have big plans for expansion for the farmed salmon industry in Newfoundland and Labrador. Some controversy has arisen over this, as could have been expected, but those pushing forward should be recognized for not being dissuaded by petty politics and for following scientific and market principles. Their vision should ultimately benefit thousands of families in coastal communities and elsewhere while having minimal environmental impact.
Nonetheless, how some aquaculture producers raise their products, and how some regulators police the process, are often cause for concern. The certification “wave” has increased globally due to the lack of confidence in government oversight and regulation in many countries, and with good reason. Government effectiveness scores actually decreased from 1996 to 2013 for 5 of the top ten aquaculture producing countries.
So, the industry is focusing on how to do things in various parts of the world. Chinese tilapia producers have begun making well-considered decisions to elevate the commodity status of their products by pursuing ASC and other certifications. They are not just growing, processing and selling tilapia – they are focusing on HOW they grow, process and sell tilapia.
British Colombia Salmon Farmers have been pursuing sustainability for some time, but they have recently hit on a way to counter their critics with transparency and defensible numbers. Perhaps no aquaculture enterprise can be 100% sustainable, but again, the focus now is on how their operations (minimally) impact the environment and the fact that they are striving to keep improving.
The AADAP program, which we cover here often, is a great example of public servants striving to have a positive influence on how growers in the US and elsewhere farm aquatic organisms. Handy guides have been developed by these folks to take the confusion out of the process of determining what aquatic animal drugs and therapeutant compounds are approved, and for what purposes. This is increasingly important in today’s world of quality assurance and traceability. It’s nice to know some civil servants actually have our back.
So, no matter what aspect of the aquaculture business you find yourself in, remember that it’s not about what you do every day, it’s about how you do it.
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.