If the #EngageWith Oceans initiative is to meet the challenge we’ve set for it, then it’s important to cast an unblinking eye on a debate about the future, even when that debate lies close to home. Bluegrove, of course, works with the aquaculture sector, but I’d be the last to deny that the industry can still excite furious debate.
The spectrum of opinion is wide, from those hailing aquaculture as the savior of the oceans, to others who claim the industry is simply a new version of the same old problems in the marine environment.
In the third podcast, we set out to ask a hard question for those involved in the farming of fish: “Can aquaculture be ethical, green and profitable too?”
Miguel Portus and Sunil Kadri
Dr. Sunil Kadri has worked for 20 years in fish welfare and aquaculture technology, and is currently Bluegrove’s main man in Chile. His answer was a qualified; yes. “Aquaculture has been moving in that direction for some time”, he explained, but solutions will need to be found all along the supply chain. Some technical challenges, particularly around disease and feeding are still there, but yes, it can be achieved”.
His co-contributor, Miguel Portus, who’s spent many years as an operations manager in the seafood industry and as a strategic consultant was pragmatic. “Look, it’s a question of the market. There are costs. Will people be willing to pay more for sustainable fish?” he said.
For both men, the aquaculture industry was evolving, but in two distinct ways. Better technology was producing new forms of sea fisheries, allowing them to move out of coastal waters into areas with higher currents and better water quality. As Sunil pointed out, “that’s better for the fish, better for the environment, and it reduces localized environmental impact from fish feces, which have caused problems in the past.” Techniques for fish feeding and lice control were also evolving quickly.
However, some believe the main engine for aquaculture growth might be on-land aquaculture, an area that Miguel had been working on for many years. “We’re working on-land because we can control the environment for the fish, both in terms of inputs and waste disposal. Individual units may be smaller than offshore production, but we’re still looking at big hatcheries, producing for example salmon of five kilos, with new species becoming possible in the future,” he said.
Predictions from the United Nations support this optimism. In its latest SOFIA (The State of the World’s Fisheries and Aquaculture) report, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN predicts that the bulk of growth in aquaculture could be on-land and in freshwater species.
On-land aquaculture also offers a solution to the charge that fish farming can have a huge carbon footprint, largely as a result of transporting the product around the globe, from fishery to market. “It really does open things up”, said Sunil, “you can produce fish locally in large quantities and not have the issue of ‘food miles’. The reticulation systems can even generate heat, so warm water fish can be farmed in colder regions.”
Miguel agreed. “I went to a seafood conference a couple of years ago in Boston and saw Salmon and Branzino (Sea Bass) being grown on-land quite close to the city. You can imagine that fish can be grown wherever you want”.
In closing, both men agreed that the costs of fish, farmed in this way will be more expensive if the industry is to thrive. Where natural conditions at sea provide for free oxygen and the right temperature levels, on-land production needs to spend money on creating artificial conditions that are suitable for efficient production. As in many areas of human activity, ethics and ecology come at a price.