By: Antonio Garza de Yta, Ph.D.
Senior Fisheries & Aquaculture Advisor, AWJ Innovation
Recently, in a discussion group, the topic of what is needed to consolidate mariculture on a global scale was raised. Many of us agreed that the future, not only of aquaculture but of the world’s food supply, lies in the oceans. In this regard, I would like to highlight some key points.
In the West, apart from salmon in Norway and Chile, as well as sea bass and sea bream in the Mediterranean, there are no recent examples of the development of any marine fish industry based on open-water aquaculture.
In Asia, in contrast, there are a large number of species being farmed, but almost all in protected waters, with much more rustic systems and, in many cases, already affecting the surrounding environment because, in most situations, they are working at the limits of the carrying capacity of the systems.
Many of us agree that the future, not only of aquaculture, but also of world food, lies in the oceans. This is due to the fact that the pressure on the planet’s arable areas, in frank decline, for food production is diminished.
In addition, the use of fresh water is reduced to what is consumed for the production of formulated food (something that, little by little, must be transformed to include a greater amount of micro or macroalgae in diets).
Next, I would like to highlight some key points for the development of aquaculture in open waters:
2.Investment and operating costs.
In terms of technology, we can divide it into two important areas: the first is biotechnology for the production of different species, and the second is the technology of farming systems in the open sea. In the last decades, the complete cycles of several species have been achieved: pompano, cobia, jack mackerel, snapper and totoaba, among others.
Although there are specific examples of companies that have achieved this sustainably, the fact is that the industry of any of these species has not yet been consolidated.
The truth is that all the aforementioned species compete strongly with their fishery counterparts and do not have mass consumption on a global scale.
In terms of cultivation technologies, we have seen that there are substantial advances in cultivation methods, such as submersible cages, closed systems within the seabed, some fully automated, and many highly technical variations and combinations.
“This is where technology and cost have a direct relationship and the complications begin. The capital investment (CAPEX) results in millions of dollars, and to recover the investment it is necessary to have a very high production break-even point.”
When aquaculture started in Chile, farms were designed to produce 300 tons each. Today, most large companies produce no less than 30,000!
Today, the minimum production to start an open-water culture cannot be imagined below 3,000 tons, and this requires enormous capital.
In addition, the cost of operation (OPEX) is high due to the nature of open-sea farming systems, which require the operation of boats, divers and daily feeding maneuvers. Consequently, very little capital can be invested in this type of cultivation, in addition to the history of failed projects.
Finally, the market, from my personal point of view, is the most delicate issue. Throughout the history of aquaculture and in many of the strategies that have been implemented at the national level, the aim is to produce a particular species or group of species.
“What can be produced is farmed, but no thought is given to what can be sold. From my perspective, it is imperative to produce what can be sold, and even to plan the presentation from the beginning in which it should be sold.”
Until today, with the exception of salmon, sea bass and sea bream, you have had a product-driven strategy when, in reality, it should be a market-driven strategy. This is a paradigm that must be changed if we really want mariculture to flourish.
In the next issue, we will discuss some factors and/or strategies to consider boosting mariculture on a global scale, which will probably involve not only thinking outside the box, but burning it. See you next time!
Senior Fisheries and Aquaculture Advisor for AWJ Innovation, Vice President of the International Center for Strategic Studies in Aquaculture (CIDEEA), President of Aquaculture Without Frontiers (AwF), Past President of the World Aquaculture Society (WAS), Former Secretary of Fisheries and Aquaculture of Tamaulipas, Mexico, and Creator of the Certification for Aquaculture Professionals (CAP) Program with Auburn University.