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President's Column March 2020

 With 2020 in full swing, we are concentrating our attention on preparations for our annual conference. This year LACQUA will be organized jointly with the Escuela Superior Politécnica del Litoral (ESPOL) and the XXI Ecuadorian Aquaculture Conference, in Guayaquil, on 7-10 September (more information on our webpage: www.was.org/code/LACQUA20). LACQUA20 will bring international attention to the Ecuadorian aquaculture industry and Guayaquil makes a fantastic venue for it. The buoyant shrimp industry offers plenty of opportunities for students, researchers, aquaculture technicians and experts to share their latest discoveries, draw comparison with other aquaculture industries, and visit suppliers that will fill the large exhibition hall booked for the event. We hope to see you there!

However, as we were settling into this new year and getting up to full speed on the organization of LACQUA20, our attention has been deviated towards the risk of a new pandemic and the consequences it has on our daily lives and businesses. Various news sites have highlighted the implications the new coronavirus has on the global economy, with far-reaching impacts. The World Economic Forum summarized it with its headline “The economic toll of the coronavirus — from iPhone to solar panels to tourism.”

In Ecuador, where I am writing from, the health situation in China is of great concern. Not just for the humanitarian crisis but also because the local shrimp industry relies heavily on the Chinese market, with 55 percent of its sales in 2019 going directly to the Asian giant. The concerns over the viral outbreak and its effect on Chinese consumption sent ripples down the production chain and farmers in Ecuador saw a dramatic drop in farmgate prices. This burden is shared with India, Indonesia and other shrimp-producing countries, where domestic demand is not enough to make up for the loss of business to China. Of course, we all know that too much reliance on one huge market like China is risky but many countries producing primary goods such as aquaculture products have lately leaned heavily on China supply chain for their own economic growth.

Another aspect of this latest health crisis that could be important for the aquaculture industry is embedded in identifying the source of the coronavirus. It is assumed that the pathogen jumped from animal to people, as has been seen with other coronavirus. It is doubtful that fishes and crustaceans will serve as hosts or reservoirs for novel human viruses, as those are generally avian and mammalian species. This fact is a good opportunity for aquaculture products and it has been seen during this last crisis when Chinese consumers shifted toward frozen aquaculture products.

As an industry we have the obligation to supply this demand with products that comply with good hygienic standards and are safe for human consumption. Certification schemes and guaranteeing traceability are all important steps towards bringing these guarantees. We may have one advantage over terrestrial animals, however, since the risk of virus transmission through handling of aquatic animals will be very limited, giving that viruses causing disease in fish and crustaceans are not pathogenic to humans. Let’s hope this crisis fades away soon and we quickly understand the factors that control this new zoonosis. — Laurence Massaut, President