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Thursday, February 22, 2018

LAS VEGAS: Aquaculture America 2018

I have been to a hundred academic / industrial conferences in my life.  I've chaired a dozen of these national and international gatherings.  The Aquaculture America 2018 Conference and Exposition in Las Vegas, where I am today, is the probably the best organized meeting I've ever experienced.  It's also large, for on the first morning, it was announced by the moderator that there were 1900 registered participants.  On further check, that might have been an exaggeration, although, for sure, there must be at least 1500 conventioneers.

According to NOAA:

NOAA Fisheries estimates that the United States imports more than 80 percent of the seafood we eat. We further estimate that about half of this imported seafood is from aquaculture. This results in a large and growing annual seafood trade deficit of more than $10.4 billion. Most aquaculture imports are shrimp, followed by Atlantic salmon, tilapia, and shellfish (scallops, mussels, clams, and oysters).


Asia dominates global aquaculture production, accounting for 89 percent of global production. China alone accounts for 62 percent of global aquaculture production. Aquaculture production in the United States has not kept pace with production increases in other parts of the world.  The United States now ranks 13th in total aquaculture production behind China, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Bangladesh, Norway, Chile, the Philippines, Japan, Egypt, and Myanmar.

One source has Maldives as the largest consumer of seafood at 366 pounds/year...yes, a pound/day.  #2 is Iceland with Japan at #9.   The world average in 2013 was 41 pounds.  USA?  Did not make the list, although another source had us at 16 pounds/person/year.   Both Maldives and the U.S. have a life expectancy around 79, but life must be particularly stressful for this Republic in the Indian Ocean, for leaders are considering moving all 350,000 citizens to Australia because of global climate induced sea level rise.

Not only do we not consume much seafood, we actually dropped from 16.6 pounds/person in 2004.  Americans eat twice as much cheese and about as much seafood annually as apples, watermelon and turkey.  We like meat (pounds/person annually), dairy products, vegetables and bread:
  • beef                   52
  • chicken              59
  • dairy products  600
  • vegetables        480
  • fruits                 250
  • flour/cereal       175
So is seafood unimportant to the U.S. economy?  We import $19.5 billion worth of edible fishery products.  The real questions are why we are not consuming more seafood and how can we increase domestic production.

As mentioned earlier, aquaculture already accounts for half the consumed seafood, and open ocean cultivation is only beginning.  It has been calculated that farming only 0.015% of our ocean space could produce as much seafood as all the current world's wild marine fisheries.

Global wild catches have remained unchanged for the past 20 years. According to the United Nations.

Global fish production is approaching its sustainable limit, with around 90% of the world’s stocks now fully or overfished and a 17% increase in production forecast by 2025, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).  Overexploitation of the planet’s fish has more than tripled since the 1970s, with 40% of popular species like tuna now being caught unsustainably, the UN FAO’s biannual State of the world’s fisheries report says.

China dominates in seafood production (million tons/year--in 2005):
  • 49.5  China
  •   9.4  Peru
  •   6.3  India
  •   5.6  Indonesia
  •   5.4  USA
  •   5.0  Chile
  •   4.8  Japan
In the 2017-8 period:
  1. China            64.8
  2. India             10.4
  3. Indonesia        6.7
  4. Peru                6.5
  5. United States  5.9
  6. Chile               5.5
  7. Japan               5.3
  8. Thailand          4.2
  9. Vietnam           4.1
  10. Russia              3.7
It is estimated that we will need to increase production by 25% in 2030 to meet world demand.  The open ocean is the only option, and this has to occur in an environmentally sound manner.

Just a dalliance, but I felt like sharing a few bits of info about tilapia:
  • Tilapia was prominent in the diet of the early Egyptians, and there are species growing there that can be two feet long.
  • Remember the parable of Jesus starting with 5 loaves of bread and two fish to feed 5,000 people?  I won't editorialize on how this really happened, but did you know that the fish were tilapia?  The debate is whether it was the Jordan Saint Peter's fish (Oreochromis aureus) or Galilee Saint Peter fish (Sarotherodon galilaeus), which today are known as tilapia, the Miracle Fish.
  • There are nearly 100 tilapia species.
  • In 1990 only 423 million pounds were harvested in the world.  In 2017, the production grew to 14.1 billion pounds, representing 11.6% of finfish aquacultured.  China and Egypt are the two largest producers.
  • Tilapia is at trophic level 2,  compared to 2.8 for pangasius, 4.7 for catfish and 4.5 for salmon:
  • I mention pangasius because, while it is #6 today in seafood produced, with shrimp #1, salmon #2, tuna #3 and tilapia #4, in 2032, one prediction has the following:
    • #1 shrimp
    • #2 tilapia
    • #3 pangasius
    • #4 kelp
    • #5 cobia
    • #6 salmon
  • 90% of pangasius come from Vietnam.  There are controversies:
    • the Mekong Delta is badly polluted, and the product is dangerous--this has been shown to be largely untrue
    • this fish is many times substituted for more expensive fish in markets and restaurants--probably true, for the flesh is not much different from cod, haddock and a range of white-flesh fish, and is sometimes also called basa, tra and swai
  • There are 22 species of pangasius, and they are related to catfish.
  • Finally, yes, there is a red tilapia, usually genetically engineered for this color:

The conference itself most focused on the nitty gritty science and very specific applications of marine seafood products, from ornamentals to fin fish, from infections to feeds, and details of little interest to me.  The session I participated in on Offshore Aquaculture was directed by Benny Tetsuzan Ron, a member of Blue Hawaii International.

I opened the program with a powerpoint on the Pacific International Ocean Station largely produced by Leighton Chong, with input by Benny and me.  My sense is that the subject matter flew right over the head of the people sitting there, who mostly couldn't comprehend our lofty goals.  They were into the fine detail of the R&D and reality of running an operating company.  I would imagine that most of the audience wondered why we were on the program.

Benny (at the podium) followed with a talk on Renewable Energy for Offshore Aquaculture.  NOAA representatives and researchers funded by them provided interesting info on what they were doing and managing.  Very upbeat, but all their effort is focused on land links and the coastal zone.  No one was involved with the open ocean outside the Exclusive Economic Zone.

Neil Anthony Sims (behind Benny) of Kampachi Farms, who articulated on What's Wrong with Offshore Aquaculture Permitting? ...And How to Make it Right.  He also leads Ocean Stewards, a trade organization for offshore aquaculture, not to be confused with another organization of about the same name, which is into ocean conservation and education.

Langly Gace presented The Complete Open Ocean Farming Platform.  You would think that would be close to what the Pacific International Ocean Station might be, but, no, this is InnoSea Systems, a rather prominent company in aquaculture, and this is their current platform:

Like others here, they deal with today and profits.  If the 1900 or so here do not do their job over the next decade, there can be no Blue Revolution.

After the session, Tetsuzan Benny Ron and I had dinner at Hexx, a decent restaurant in the Paris Hotel.  We agreed that we might not have been today appreciated, but someone has to alert them to the future, and perhaps we planted a seed or two. Benny is an uncommon man, and I'm glossing over his background, maybe on purpose, but he is a former special forces commando, with a PhD in Genetics, holding responsible positions in his home country of Israel, but decided to become an internationalist, moving to the University of Hawaii, then on to become a consultant headquartered in Texas, traveling widely around the world.  See that Tetsuzan?  He has lived in Japan and has a Zen alliance.  His son is with the Boston Finance Group, while his daughter has a PhD specializing in the brain.  He remains linked with Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.  We discussed strategy for Phase 2 to attract the appropriate billionaire into the Blue Revolution.

I had an excellent combination of baked artichoke/spinach/cheese and Caesar salad, with a glass of Pinot Grigio:


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