The past couple of years have been extremely challenging for aquaculture. Not only has the industry had to contend with a global pandemic, but a cost-of-living crisis, inflation and energy prices, supply issues and even a war in Ukraine have brought home the need to overcome some unprecedented hurdles in the midst of other obstacles such as ocean acidification and climate change.
This huge uncertainty is overwhelming and I have no doubt that my role, and that of the media in sharing the experiences of those in aquaculture, will become more important than ever. In my first blog entry of 2023, I take a look at the outlook for aquaculture and what resonated with me.
At the end of 2022, the Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC) in Scotland outlined three themes that would shape the Scottish sector in 2023. Among the biggest emerging challenges for aquaculture in 2022, said Heather Jones, CEO of SAIC, was warmer waters causing algal plant or zooplankton blooms. With the impact on animals and plants in the natural ecosystem, as well as seafood, a huge concern, one of SAIC’s goals is to support aquaculture with new technology that can better understand the threats posed by harmful blooms. Early warning technology and methods to discern the trends and patterns of harmful blooms will go a long way towards helping farmers respond quickly to protect their fish or shellfish.
Harmful blooms are also a growing concern in the US, where modelling and forecasting capabilities, and systems like sensors that assemble data on ocean conditions, currents, algal species abundance and toxin levels, are working to lessen the negative effects. These will become even more critical to helping aquaculture keep pace with further impacts as our oceans warm under a changing climate. Researchers are also learning that different algae species impact different types of fish and shellfish, and efforts are underway to ensure that the technology is ready so that farmers can act accordingly when things shift on their farms.
Jones also said that a progressive, modern mindset is needed to help future-proof aquaculture, and that in 2023 there will be opportunities to shift from the development of emerging technology to its adoption. We have already seen that the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) help fish farms monitor and control their production through real-time data collection so that water quality conditions and other parameters can be adjusted and assessed quickly and remotely. They can also help farms manage risks and processes such as food safety, supply chain transparency and waste reduction. With plenty of knowledge already gained from research, hopefully in 2023 this knowledge will be put to use even more. The increasing need to procure seafood responsibly and sustainably will prompt further technological innovations that will reshape aquaculture.
Could aquaculture also see some new species this year? Last month I read about work in Norway to develop farming techniques for the spotted wolffish (Anarchichas minor). This fish appears to have some unique traits that make it suitable for aquaculture, such as good feed conversion ratios. Another new species that caught my eye was the snubnose pompano (Trachinotus blochii). Researchers at the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Centre Aquaculture Department (SEAFDEC/AQD) in the Philippines are aiming to address the lack of pompano fingerlings that can be stocked in cages and ponds, and are building a pompano hatchery with a rearing capacity of 80 tonnes. It may be worth keeping an eye on this new species, which is also being considered as an alternative to milkfish and tilapia, the dominant farmed species in the Philippines.
Despite falling prices and rising costs, the outlook for the shrimp market in 2023 is optimistic. According to the latest Rabobank report, global shrimp production is expected to grow by up to 7%. Ecuador, the world’s largest producer and exporter of shrimp, is likely to be a key driver of the shrimp industry. “With a perfect climate, a low-intensity model, and large, vertically integrated farmers, the Ecuadorian industry has a unique advantage that will last for the foreseeable future,” says the report.
Also coming up this year is the Seagriculture virtual conference, which will premiere in the Asia-Pacific in early February. Dedicated to the region’s seaweed industry, the conference will cover topics from seaweed farming and mechanisation to market trends and business development, along with breeding and disease and seaweed applications. With so much focus over the years on the benefits of seaweed and the positive impacts of farming it, could we see even more opportunities for seaweed this year? Seaweed farming requires no inputs and as a regenerative form of farming, is winning praise and leading to positive dialogue on aquaculture’s environmental benefits. With the climate impact of our food a huge topic, more and more people are likely to want food with lower carbon footprints, such as seaweed and shellfish. This will undoubtedly put seaweed in the spotlight as a healthy protein option.
There is also a sense of positivity in Japan. In his new year address, the CEO of social venture Seafood Legacy, Wakao Hanaoka, discussed Japan’s seafood industry, including fisheries and aquaculture, and highlighted his belief that becoming a front-runner among Asian countries in the pursuit of environmental sustainability and social responsibility is the path to a bright future for Japan. In the meantime, new species are also being farmed in the country. Researchers at Kindai University are farming the herbivorous rabbitfish (Siganus fuscescens), a species that tends to be discarded by capture fisheries as its unique smell isn’t popular among Japanese consumers. By farming this type of species, the researchers hope to address the issue of waste vegetables and join forces with high-end restaurant chefs who can prepare rabbitfish to reduce its smell, encourage consumers to embrace it, and highlight the positive nature of farmed fish. I’m looking forward to hearing more about Japan’s efforts when I head there next month.