President's Column - December 2022

Life is not always fair, WAS Singapore is just around the corner and I will not be able to join the meeting. I will miss you all my friends, but I am again back in France for a new aortic valve in the next couple of weeks. During the meeting in Singapore, Dr. Krishna R. Salin will replace me as APC President, and I will assume the function of Past-president.

Meanwhile I am thinking about what I could write about in my last column as President and contemplate my empty screen without any inspiration as the news in Europe is rather bleak and after two weeks of waiting for my operation, I am already missing Laos and Asia.

But listening to the news in Europe, one thing is certain, headlines are often about the upcoming energy crisis and its consequences. Over the past few years, meat consumption has been shrinking by about -0.8 percent in industrialized countries, but one of the consequences of the energy crisis has been an accelerating shift to plant-based diets, especially in the western world, which is believed to be essential for reaching climate targets, addressing public health problems and protecting animal welfare. However, the energy crisis, and the inflation it generates, does not alone explain these developments in animal products. For instance, cattle herds also tend to decrease due to drought; the grass is no longer green and animal feed is expensive.

Similarly to husbandry, there is now no doubt that world’s fisheries are also in crisis. Numerous scientific reports point to an important decline in global catches to be replaced by aquaculture production. Aquaculture is considered to be a sustainable practice that can supplement capture fisheries and significantly contribute to feeding the world’s growing population. However, unsustainable aquaculture development could exacerbate the problems and create new ones damaging the already-stressed aquatic environment.

Many sources of stress will weigh on the production of animal products and more generally on agriculture and aquaculture such as energy, heat, droughts, depletion of water resources, flooding, fertilizer, soil erosion and pollution, decline in functional biodiversity, labor. Knowing that yields have already been stagnating for a while.

While there is an important move to promote recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS), the cost of energy today represents a threat to the economic viability of high-energy RAS. Higher energy efficiency and lower environmental impact have now become the most important aspects in designing and operating any aquaculture production systems and particularly RAS, which requires large amount of energy for water circulation and particularly to maintain constant water temperature. The aquaculture production system must more than ever reduce their energy requirement, operating cost and environmental footprint.

Unfortunately, like with the “Green Revolution” of agriculture in the 20th century, the current “Aquaculture Blue Revolution” is evolving from an agricultural, low-impact production system toward industrial, inland recirculating fish production systems that is supposed to reduce the environmental impact. Unfortunately, this evolution is associated with a trend toward the increased production of high-value “carnivorous” fish species such as salmon, which are often environmentally and socially damaging. Usually controlled by multinational corporations, industrialized farming of carnivorous fish such as salmon, especially when produced in tropical countries, requires the intensive use of resources and create problems often resulting in negative environmental impacts and social conflicts.

If the Blue Revolution were to succeed, the aquaculture industry needs to go through some reform and maybe even a revolution that will bring a paradigm shift in how aquaculture development can be done to better address sustainability, specifically addressing issues of its interaction with surrounding nature and the social environment. Future aquaculture development must be first based on sustainability.

Unfortunately, the concept, while easy to describe and propose, is today more difficult to achieve than ever. As recently as 16 October, Xi Jinping’s speech, greatly praised by delegates of the 20th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, stated: “It is necessary to accelerate the transformation of our country into an agricultural power (...). We will consolidate the basis of food security at all levels (...) so that China can assure the people its ‘daily rice bowl.’”

However, it has been a tough summer for farmers and those responsible for this strategic sector. Dry water reserves, tens of millions of households without electricity, thousands of factories at a standstill, farmers all over the country worried about poor harvests. It is already clear that climate change will have even more devastating effects than anticipated, especially on agriculture and aquaculture.

Temperatures have never been so high in China: 45 C recorded in Chongqing on August 18, a record for a Chinese city, and 40 C was exceeded in many provinces. Never has the drought lasted so long. Jiangxi province first declared a “red alert” on September 23. At that time, almost all of this province had not received a drop of water for seventy days. The first rains fell on October 6, after being artificially induced. As early as October 7, the province again issued the red alert and since then it has been maintained.

The impacts of climate change on aquaculture and fisheries sectors in numerus regions of the world will likely be both positive and negative, arising from direct and indirect impacts on natural resources. Climate change will impact aquaculture production around the globe through temperature, rainfall patterns, availability of freshwater, circulation, upwelling, sea level rise associated with seawater intrusion in estuarine areas. Climate change is likely to impose new aquaculture practices as it may be positive by enhancing growth rates of fish or negative through impact on water availability, weather patterns, stratification and eutrophication. The greater availability of phytoplankton and zooplankton through eutrophication could possibly enhance production but the predicted water stress and decreasing water availability will affect aquaculture production.

The world is in real need of innovation for a controversial future that is not yet understood. We can only hope that the new generation of aquapreneurs will prioritize our planet rather than profit or any other business considerations.

I wish to all my colleagues and friends to enjoy their time at WAS Singapore and hope I will be able to meet you all in Darwin next year. I also welcome Dr. Salin as incoming APC President knowing he will do a great job and I will make all efforts to continue working with him as the Past-president.

On behalf of the Board, I wish you great success with your projects.
Jean-Yves Mével, President