"Aquaculture, not the Internet, represents the most promising investment opportunity of the 21st Century."
- Peter Drucker, Management Expert & Economist
- Peter Drucker, Management Expert & Economist
Do the Aquaculture Industry Need Research & Development?
|Formanden for brancheforeningen 'Dansk Akvakultur' har sin egen blog - her er der også postet et indlæg om akvakultur og forskning.|
Se formandens blog
Reflections from a Danish Perspective
This is an Op-Ed I was asked to do some years ago for the European Aquaculture Journal, when I was working with DHI Water & Environment. It has current interest because I have been asked by EuroChile to go to Puerto Montt and discuss these matters.
R/D is very important for any industry. However, it is also important, that publicly financed R/D effort is evaluated carefully to see, if it fits the Industry's needs and is conducted in an efficient and timely manner. EU has started the IMPACT FISH project to do just that, and by this note in the EAS journal I would like to present a few points to the IMPACT FISH process seen from a Danish perspective.
evaluating the R/D effort it is necessary to acknowledge, that the
economy of any industry depends on many factors: market, production
technology, financing, management, public image, environment and ethics.
As we all know, a chain is not stronger than its weakest link, which
means that we have to look at the weakest factors of an industry at a
given time in its development to further the needs of the industry in
the best possible manner. It's my view, that R/D is not at all the
weakest link for the aquaculture industry at exactly this stage.
Aquaculture & Environment
A major problem for the
aquaculture industry all over the world is a skewed public image based
on misleading, disproportionate information about the environmental
impacts from the industry. This situation is caused by NGO's and
sometimes even public authorities painting a bleak picture of
aquaculture production as being particularly damaging to the
environment. Sure, as any other food production in the world,
aquaculture is impacting the environment. But the fact is, that modern
industrialised aquaculture is more ecological efficient measured in land
use and nutrient loss, than most traditional types of food production,
and it would be very beneficial for the global environment, if large
parts of food production were moved from land to water and from
fisheries to aquaculture.
In Denmark, this image problem has
caused a situation, where only one new significant permit for increased
fish production has been given out in about 15 years. The production has
consequently stagnated to a level of about 40.000 ton fish/yr, which is
a respectable 8 kg pr. capita, compared to the world average of 6. A
normal growth in these 15 years would however have increased the
production to 100-200.000 tons / yr. and by this misguided
restrictiveness; the Danish society has missed an export value
corresponding to the value of a Great Belt bridge (about 4 billion
Sure, the R/D community has been positive part of a
development, where the industry through its food companies and its own
steady increase in management capabilities have reduced the waste of
nitrogen from a kg fish produced with a factor 3 in 30 years.
negative role is unfortunately being played by the public R/D community
using this environmental controversy to exaggerate problems and to ask
for funds for "reinventing the wheel". The fact of the matter is that
environmental impact R/D for aquaculture is highly redundant. Most of
the relative trivial problems related to discharges from fish farms are
well known, and good monitoring and modelling tools exist. What is
really needed is not R/D for analysing the impacts, but R/D with the aim
of reducing them.
The R/D public research community could
help much by being outspoken and giving realistic and proportionate
information about aquaculture and environment to the public. This would
pave the way for an increased aquaculture production, which is
beneficial as well for a high quality food supply as for the
environment. As of now the aquaculture industry, at least in Denmark, is
in a catch 22 situation:
It cannot be allowed to produce
more fish because of environmental restrictions, which it cannot afford
to solve, because it cannot be allowed to produce more fish.
industrialized aquaculture is a knowledge intensive industry. Not as
some may think, a low technology production, which anybody can do (put
some fish in a net or pond, feed them, harvest them and smile all the
way to the bank), but on the contrary a high technology, high risk
industry with a high added value pr. employee working in the production.
For this reason the industry needs a modern attitude to R/D and because
of the rapid structural changes in the industry, a rapid
professionalization with respect to R/D is fortunately happening
are however, some cultural attitudes as well among the farmers as among
the researchers with makes this transition unnecessarily slow.
aquaculturists are closely related to their cousins on land: the
agriculturalists, and share some of the same attitudes. First of all
they don't like academics too much, all farmers know that if his
son/daughter is not smart enough to take over the family farm, he/she
must stoop to be a clergyman, a doctor or heaven forbid a teacher. So an
academic is for an aquaculturist someone, who is sitting at a desk
doing very little, taking no risks and earning good money.
the food production community, which calls itself liberal, have for
ages been weaned on to public handouts (see the EU CAP situation) and
has great difficulties with the concept of financing and thereby
controlling its own R/D, like the classical industrial producers have
done for a long time. Actually, aquaculture is much less subsidised than
agriculture, but this attitude is still present.
researchers do not help much either. Fundamentally, they do not
understand the industry very well, and often they get into an
"undertaker" type of business, where production or environment troubles
are used as pretext for applying for R/D money, which then are used for
business as usual: Many man-months of projects, which may help the
researchers to publish more, but not the producers to produce more fish.
This goes on to the extent, that we are in Denmark looking at a reverse
pyramid, with very few companies and people doing the actual
production, and many institutions and individuals getting research
grants on behalf of an industry, which can barely survive.
the researchers do not to a sufficient degree understand and respect
the practical innovation, which takes place at all aquaculture
installations, and without which the farmers could not survive. Sure, it
is a good thing to use scientific methods in the development of
production methods, and any industry should strive towards that goal,
but in the real world, if your fish are dying, you can't do controlled
experiments, you have to do something, and you have to do it now.
existing R/D is furthermore dominated by the traditional biological
community and the fish pathologists. Sure these issues are important,
but other issues like sociology/image, management, economy, off-shore
construction, recirculation technology, IT technology, genetic
engineering may be just as important. Particularly, the R/D community is
in love with new species, even if it is extremely likely, that the
production of aquatic animals will be relying on a few species, exactly
like for terrestric animals.
Finally, the research is too far
from the real world and too loosely connected to the farmers. In
countries, like Norway, where there are more than sufficient funds
available for aquaculture research, the projects are inflated to take in
too many persons and take much too long time. The real limiting factor
for aquaculture research is not money, but good ideas and competent
serious researchers, who work in a timely way towards the same goal as
the industry, that is to produce fish according to market demands in the
most economically and ecologically efficient manner.
Yes, There Is a Future for Aquaculture R/D
aquaculture industry should, like other modern industries, gradually
take full responsibility for and pay its own research in full. It can
expect from EU and the national states, that framework conditions are
established, which makes it possible for the industry to produce
according to market demands, and without giving unfair competitive
advantages to farmers in other parts of the world. It should furthermore
ask for increased funding for state-of-the art basic research in
relevant fields to secure the production of relevant basic knowledge and
competent researchers, which can go to well paid jobs in the industry
laboratories. In this I see a declining role for public organisations
doing applied research and development, which is much better placed in
the industry itself.
In the transition period and even after,
there is still room for public / private partnerships doing research
projects using among other EU funds. It is however extremely important,
that the industry is taking the drivers seat as well for initiating as
for choosing the right R/D projects.
Aquaculture is a food production industry of the future, and as well the researchers as the industry can gain much from forward looking and innovative research, when the right framework is established.
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