Specialists from around the world have outlined core factors for success and sustainability in the multi-billion dollar aquaculture sector.
The fourth webinar in a Blue Charter series hosted by the Commonwealth Secretariat and attended by more than 50 participants, featured fish farming case studies from Cyprus, Seychelles, Mozambique and Egypt, which together contribute to a global total of more than 80 million tonnes of fish produced each year.
Most aquaculture goes towards feeding an ever-increasing world population, making up more than half of all seafood produced annually.
Opening the event, ocean governance adviser and lead expert on the Commonwealth Blue Charter, Jeff Ardron, outlined an important caveat for the growing sector: “There is incredible room for growth in the ocean, but it must be done sustainably.”
“Ultimately, aquaculture must be profitable to continue, but in doing so, it should not degrade the marine environment, which is already facing significant pressures. Also, to be sustainable in the long run, it must not irrevocably displace people or their local activities.”
The webinar underlined the importance of having far-sighted laws and policies to support aquaculture activities.
Cyprus, for example, began exploring aquaculture as early as the 1960s and 1970s, recognising the interdependence of economic, social and environmental factors in the sector.
The government created an aquaculture development policy and strategy as a priority in the Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Development and Environment.
This led to the creation of specific laws in 2000 and 2002 for the establishment, operation and further development of aquaculture activities in Cyprus.
The ministry’s Head of Aquaculture, Vassilis Papadopoulos shared how this provided a secure regulatory environment for investors, while fostering transparency, better monitoring and improved health of farmed organisms.
Similarly, in Seychelles, aquaculture can help diversify the tourism-reliant economy. Support from the government was crucial, with aquaculture featuring in the country’s ‘Blue Economy Strategic Framework and Roadmap’, developed with assistance from the Commonwealth Secretariat. This resulted in an updated Fisheries Act, a new national policy and new regulations.
According to Principal Officer at the Seychelles Fishing Authority, Aubrey Lesperance: “Aquaculture cannot develop without a proper framework. You definitely need a plan in place before you venture into aquaculture because it’s a new science and still being developed.”
Training and community
Discussions also showed how training and capacity building are essential to the sector’s sustainability.
Looking at lessons learned outside of the Commonwealth, Egypt’s aquaculture sector provides at least 100,000 full time jobs, half of which are filled by youth. World Fish’s Ahmed Nasr-Allah said the NGO has delivered vital training on best management practices to Egyptian fish farmers since 2010, with real impacts on efficiency and profitability.
From 2015-2018, they trained about 4,300 fish farm workers, who went on to train thousands more in their networks. The result was 13% more profits and 20% less wastage of aquaculture feed which reduced the impact on the local environment, as well as a 22% drop in greenhouse gas emissions.
In Mozambique, where aquaculture has significant domestic and regional markets, community engagement has also proved valuable.
The Chicoa Fish Farm in Lake Caora Bassa for instance, runs a small-scale farmers’ programme and training centre, while employing local women and youth.
Director Damien Legros said: “Our project has already inspired other people and there have been a couple of farms that we’ve helped. Just the presence of a strong fish farm already induces other people to do similar things.”
Opportunity and profitability
However, aquaculture does not work everywhere. UK-based expert Malcolm Dickson emphasised that performance varies from country to country.
In the Commonwealth, the top producers are in Asia – namely, India, Bangladesh and Malaysia – while other ‘aspiring countries’ such as Seychelles, Mozambique, Fiji and Jamaica, are still in the early stages of development.
Dr Dickson said that success comes down to two factors – opportunity and profitability. Physical space for aquaculture systems, institutional and legal frameworks, and viable markets are all required to create opportunity.
Furthermore, each step of the production chain needs to be profitable: “If the profitability factor is not there, then you don’t get the private sector investment to scale up.”
The Commonwealth Blue Charter action group on sustainable aquaculture was set up to explore these issues and share experiences amongst members. Led by champion country Cyprus, the group is working on a model roadmap that Commonwealth countries could use as a basis to develop “environmentally compatible, financially viable and socially acceptable” aquaculture.
The webinar event was the fourth in a series by the Commonwealth Blue Charter, which focuses sharing experiences and finding scalable solutions for pressing ocean challenges.