Offshore Mariculture 2017, day two roundup

Day 2 Round Up Day 2 Round Up

Here are the highlights from day two of conference presentations, including sessions on marketing, investment, technology and hatcheries.

Market opportunities

It was clear from the presentations that the market needs some education – buyers are still reluctant to accept that farmed fish is as good as wild-caught fish, even though it has much in its favour, including control over production, proper handling and is killed and processed properly. The market needs to be made aware of just what the aquaculture business can supply in terms of quality and responsible production. According to Rex Ito, the job is juggling many variables - holidays, demand, and logistics are all a key element.

“Logistics can make the difference between making and losing money,” he added, commenting that handling can be the difference between a shelf life of weeks and just days.

Victor Pak stressed that supply has to be constant, there is no option to not supply. 

“If there’s a war, there’s a war. But you still have to supply that fish,” he said.

“Quality product and repeat performance is what we're looking for,” Rex Ito commented. “The first sale is easy. The key is the follow-through. That means time and expense.”

Dave Rudie of Catalina Offshore, who started out as a sea urchin diver and moved into processing and then exporting to Japan, added that there is a great deal of misinformation about farmed fish, much of it emanating from NGOs that have no love for the aquaculture business.

Investment in aquaculture

Robert Orr of Cuna Del Mar stated that for aquaculture to grow, the Norwegian model is the ideal, with its alignment between the private sector, government and academia – and the bottom line is that the world is going to need more protein. These sector need to come together for that to become reality.

“There are massive opportunities for Mexico, and for the US and Canada if regulatory issues can be solved,” he added, and threw in a few figures illustrating how far China has gone in this direction, with 6000 cages offshore already and a 200,000gt former tanker operating as a floating fish farm village. He commented that Cobia alone has the potential to be twenty times the size of the salmon industry.

“Access to finance and government policy are the two big challenges,” he said. “It's not a 50,000 tonne issue – it's a 50 million tonne issue.”

Omar Alfi fell in love with Ensenada and the business before leaving a finance career and jumping into aquaculture.

“Growth is going to come from aquaculture,” he stated, commenting that they looked carefully at the business model. “This business is a lot harder than we expected.… It's a game about quality and price, and constant production is critical.”

"Clusters are critical for the future of the world," says Michael Jones of the Maritime Alliance, stressing the importance of clusters.

A proposed Baja Blue Tech cluster could bring in 50 companies, academics, researchers and officials from cities in Baja California. Academia, industry and the public sector comes together in clusters.

The world of Offshore Technology

Darko Lisac of Refa Med gave a fascinating insight into the unique installation of a set of cages for the Holy Monastery of Vatopedi in Greece, locating cages on a sharply sloping seabed in a highly exposed location. The monks rear sea bream, starting with 10 gramme fingerings and finishing with 350 gramme adult sea bream less than a year later.

Rodrigo Sánchez’s vision of open ocean aquaculture begins with copper alloy cages that offer challenges and opportunities, providing advantages. He believes firmly in open ocean aquaculture, and has a vision of ships capable of following cages deployed in the open sea, moving aquaculture away from coastal zones where more than 90% of aquaculture currently takes place. The vision is for a 60m vessel consisting of a system of copper alloy cages that can spend several weeks at sea, capable of growing salmon, trout, cobia, tuna or seriola in its cages, with capacity for 450 tonnes of fish.

Smart Units are made for mussels and are designed not to need anything to be taken out of the water. Bjørn Aspøy explained that the harvesting machine is the key to the system, and can be deployed from a boat or built into a catamaran.

New breeding techniques

Conal True gave an insight into the history of Totoaba, the original wild fishery and the total ban on this species. Once a key species in the upper Gulf of California, there is scope for developing a genetically sound regional restocking programme.

Fish in the Seriola genus are considered some of the most desirable species of marine finfish within the international seafood market, said Federico Rotman of Hubs Seaworld Research Institute. Fingerling supply has been a critical limiting factor in the commercial production of these animals. But more recently, methods leading to successful commercial-scale Seriola fingerling production have been refined and the aquaculture industry can now count on a consistent supply of high-quality seed.

The aquaculture industry lags in genetically based selective breeding programs when compared to terrestrial commercial crops, said Kelly Stromberg of Catalina Sea Ranch, commenting that this puts US aquaculture entrepreneurs at a disadvantage for success, and increases risk of bivalve crop degradation from climate change.

Catalina Sea Ranch is developing a novel family line system within the emerging model organism Mytilus galloprovincialis, which will be used to generate the framework for a genetics based selective breeding protocol. In 2015, Catalina Sea Ranch received a NOAA SBIR contract to develop such a system.

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