By C. Greg Lutz
”I tried that whole optimism thing… I really did. But I knew it wasn’t gonna work”
As silly as it sounds, anyone involved in the aquaculture industry could be forgiven for adopting this particular world view. We find examples everywhere of the efforts of government and academic institutions making strides to solve producers’ problems and support industry development, but there always seems to be a catch. And this reality seems to be pretty universal – at least in ‘first world’ countries.
One example, which we present here in our Europe Report, involves European Commission goals for pushing the Community’s aquaculture production beyond the more-or-less static levels of the past decade. First goal: Reducing administrative burdens on aquaculture businesses and producers! Yeah, man! Sounds great, right? What a boost to growth this will be!!! Only problem is, it’s not the regulators themselves proposing this. And, have you ever met a regulator whose goal it was to put themselves out of a job? Really?
Second goal: Improving access to land and water. Excellent! Um… Who exactly will have to surrender these spaces? We’re talking public lands and coastal waters, right? How will the objections of other stakeholders be dealt with?
Third goal: Increasing competitiveness. Great concept. I am surprised we don’t hear this more often in beauty pageants along with answers like “world peace” and “ending hunger…” The problem with this goal is that there is no single, nor simple, way to accomplish this. And any strategy for increasing competitiveness will probably also be riddled with ill-defined, well-intentioned objectives.
Finally, Goal 4: Exploiting competitive advantages due to high quality, health and environmental standards. Seriously, if these really WERE significant competitive advantages, they would have already gone a long way toward tackling goal number 3. Wouldn’t they? Am I missing something?
The reality is pretty similar on this side of the Atlantic. In this issue we see examples of state agencies and institutions working hard to promote and foster the development of shellfish aquaculture in coastal states like Virginia and Louisiana. At the same time however, as pointed out in our Shellfish Corner column, local authorities often discourage shellfish production by citing potential environmental threats in the face of a “not in my backyard” attitude on the part of influential constituents.
But, on a brighter note... to return to that concept of government agencies and academic institutions working together to solve problems, researchers’ responses to the recently emerged shrimp disease known as EMS illustrate what is possible when collaboration and information sharing are the first priority. What began as a totally mysterious, inexplicable plague that could wipe out entire farms in short order is now recognized as a totally EXPLICABLE plague that can still wipe out entire farms in short order. We understand it. We deal with it. OK, OK, I’ll try that optimism approach on this one. The shrimp, perhaps, are adapting to it and some degree of genetic accommodation may be occurring through the use of certain strains that seem to be better adapted to the environmental challenges that often set the stage for EMS outbreaks.
On the commercial side, however, aquaculture’s advance guard continues to press on toward a brighter future – oblivious to the challenges, obstacles, and bureaucratic stupidity standing in their way. And not just the shrimp farmers. Optimism seems to be alive and well all over the place. Producers keep growing all the species we are familiar with, and a few new ones here and there. Feed suppliers continue to bet on the future of aquaculture, with M&A activity on the upswing. Other purveyors of inputs, such as mesh for cages, continue to solve industry’s problems through innovation. Maybe that whole optimism thing should be re-examined? I’ll withhold judgment for the time being. – CGL
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.