By: Antonio Garza de Yta, Ph.D.*
Vicepresident. CIDEEA / Senior Fisheries & Aquaculture Advisor, AWJ Innovation.
The very rapid growth of aquaculture is not only because it is the most sustainable form of animal protein production on the planet, but because there have been very significant technological advances that have enabled it… but what’s next? Where do we go from here? How far can we trust the technology?
Sixty years ago, the contribution of aquaculture to the production of fish and seafood for human consumption was about 4%; last year (2022) it was an estimated 56%. This accelerated growth is not only due to the fact that it is the most sustainable form of animal protein production on the planet.
It is also due to the fact that there have been very significant technological advances that have made this development possible.
Technology has transformed and redirected aquaculture, from aeration and formulated feed, to genetic improvement programs, water quality monitoring systems and vaccines, to automation and the use of artificial intelligence.
“Previously, aquaculture was a big black box, where we planted organisms, fed them, asked the midichlorians to grow fast and we did not have diseases, and we harvested without really knowing what was really going on.”
Little by little we have started to make that box transparent, today we have a translucent box through technological tools that allow us to see what is happening inside our culture systems, analyzing how much and when our organisms are feeding, interrelating this information to the genetic line we use and an important amount of physicochemical parameters of the water, which allows us to use the resources much better and to be more efficient every day.
Today, precision aquaculture is the present, but what is next? Where are we going? How far can we rely on technology? There is no doubt that technological advances are fundamental to the development of aquaculture, but equally important are the people who understand the principles behind them.
“The combination of technology and professionalization of the industry will save investors from major headaches and losses in the millions.”
I know I’m going to touch on very sensitive issues. But aquaculture cannot be done at any cost, even if the markets are there. The carbon footprint is a concept that we must understand and take full responsibility for… Well, only if we want our planet to exist for our grandchildren.
The “innovative” ideas of producing organisms completely outside of their environment, in places where energy use is very high, is very unsustainable.
It can only be done in places where markets are willing to pay a significant premium for a product they could well get at much lower cost and environmental impact. Many people have dedicated themselves to selling aquaculture projects, not aquaculture, selling technologies that seem idyllic but are in fact a recipe for disaster.
Maybe some of these technologies will be part of the tools of the future and may be interesting for a venture fund, but in the case of dealing with an investment fund or with the wealth of small or medium investors, it is a real crime and this fact damaged the reputation of aquaculture, especially because it was intended to massify something that is still in the testing phase and not ready for people with very deep pockets.
“The future of aquaculture is ‘zero aquaculture’, with no carbon footprint or negative footprint, making effective use of all waste and co-products.”
Aquaculture must be designed to solve tomorrow’s problems, not only in relation to renewable energy, recycling and innovative ideas, but also in relation to the creation of arable land and linked to other economic activities such as tourism. Let’s not forget that the goal is not technology.
The goal is to produce food in the most efficient way possible, using as many technological tools as possible, but without being deceived by false promises. It is true that we must try to fly very high, but without losing our feet on the ground.
WAS President 2021 – 2022. Antonio Garza de Yta, President, Aquaculture without Frontiers (AwF), a renowned international aquaculture professional, who holds a Masters degree and a Ph.D. in Aquaculture from the University of Auburn, USA.
He is an aquaculture expert, FAO frequent consultant, as well as a specialist in strategic planning.
Ex-director of Extension and International Training for the University of Auburn and creator of the Certification for Aquaculture Professionals in that academic institution.