December 07, 2023

President's Column December2023

What’s next for Aquaculture? Diversification.

FAO’s Biannual Food Outlook shows that aquaculture production has increased from 87.5 million tons in 2020 to 92 million tons in 2022. This represents an increase of around 5%, despite pressures associated with climate change, inflation, and a decline in demand. Average yearly seafood consumption has increased to over 20 Kg worldwide. While these numbers are good, production is not increasing at the desired rate to meet demand for additional aquaculture protein, which has been estimated at 40 million more tons by 2050. At present, 90% of aquaculture production comes from Asia and space limitations, property user conflicts, diseases and stagnated demand are limiting growth in that region. This represents an opportunity to diversify both producing regions and species around the world. So, can we meet future expectations? Can oceans and inland waters sustainably supply the growing demand for food? Is governance effective to regulate and manage aquaculture growth? Are incentives sufficient?

In terms of species diversification, more than 400 species are being cultured. We must evaluate whether it is feasible to develop technologies for all of them that are economically viable, environmentally sustainable, and socially responsible, or whether we must concentrate in high-volume species. Considering that R&D investment for the agribusiness sector has been steadily declining for at least the last 5 decades, and that private investment for R&D in developing countries is still limited, we must prioritize the use of resources available for knowledge development and establish strong collaboration channels among research institutions and the relevant industry stakeholders to innovate production in the sector.
While there have been significant production increases in several countries for some species, like salmon, shrimp, tilapia, and various mollusks, an analysis on why development in regions other than Asia has not advanced at the same rate is needed. Several years ago, I led a group of stakeholders in a diagnostic of the aquaculture industry for the Mexican Government. Among other things, it showed that inefficient public policy is often associated to a limited knowledge on the needs to successfully develop the sector. This results in deficient strategic planning and poor governance.

On the other hand, lack of sufficient investment hinders industry consolidation, especially with regards to the use of state-of-the-art knowledge-based technologies. Technology development and appropriation is limited not only by the lack of resources, but also by the lack of enough specialized human resources. At present, the industry involves around 20 million people. For an expected additional 40 million tons, we would require an additional 7 or 8 million specialists incorporated to the production chain. Innovation would also benefit from stronger extension services in every country. To deliver this new production to the end-user, we need to develop commercialization channels and markets, particularly for small producers. Finally, you cannot improve what you can’t evaluate. Better data analysis to facilitate decision making and management is required as is the need to enhance stakeholder communication and collaboration.

The future of the aquaculture industry is bright, as it will be at the forefront of the solutions associated with high quality protein production, delivering healthy and nutritious fish and seafood to society. I expect that in the next few years we will see significant production increases in areas such as Latin America and Africa, and more efficient production in Asia. At the World Aquaculture Society, we strive to contribute to that effort.

The World Aquaculture Society, as the most relevant aquaculture association worldwide, must facilitate the generation and dissemination of knowledge among its Members and the society in general, through conferences, workshops, and effective use of social networks. We now offer free WAS Membership to students worldwide, have an open-access Journal that is very well regarded by the scientific and industry communities and have also made the World Aquaculture Magazine open-to-the-public.

After a very successful African Chapter Conference in Zambia, we now move to San Antonio in February to start the year, before visiting Indonesia in July, Copenhagen in August for AQUA 2024 and completing the year in Colombia at the end of September. We will deliver the best information available on aquaculture through these events, so please consider attending our regional and annual meetings.

I encourage you as Members of our Society to identify areas where you can contribute to improve research, technology development and production innovation, and share your ideas and projects at our conferences and in our publications. Please contact me, or our Board, Chapter representatives and the World Aquaculture Magazine Editor, Prof. Greg Lutz, with your thoughts. I´m looking forward to meeting you at one of our next World Aquaculture or regional conferences. Cheers.
Humberto Villareal, President, World Aquaculture Society

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About Humberto Villarreal

Humberto is the Current President of the World Aquaculture Society. Biochemical Engineer from ITESM, Mexico with a PhD in Zoology from U. of Queensland, Australia, he has been a Senior Researcher and Postgraduate Lecturer at CIBNOR in La Paz, BCS, Mexico for over 35 years, leading national and international projects related to aquaculture, including the development of the Master Plan for Aquaculture Development in Mexico for the Federal Government. His main interests relate to bioenergetics models and the optimization of intensive systems to innovate commercial production of shrimp (Litopenaeus vannamei) and freshwater redclaw crayfish (Cherax quadricarinatus). He has been Director of Marine Biology, the Aquaculture Program (for 10 years) and BioHelis, the Innovation and Technology Park (10 years) at CIBNOR and is founder and/or consultant to several enterprises related to immunology, nutrition, intensive production and artificial intelligence data management for aquatic species.

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