Feed Bussiness Worldwide: October / November 2015
Aquaculture 's long boom: Amid rising resistance from man and nature
by Eric J. BROOKS
For the world aquaculture sector, three decades of easy growth are over. A protein line once touted as a healthy alternative to livestock production is being ironically confronted by issues of finite resources, food safety and ecological sustainability.
With nature itself constraining the industry, aquaculture may expand by far less than the 6.6% annual rate it has maintained since the late 2000s.
Nature, consumers fight back
It does not matter if we are dealing with shrimp or salmon, advanced ecologically sustainable Norwegian fish farms, or antibiotic-dependent operations in southern China. All are finding that nature is defying the urge to further boost stocking densities.
On one hand, countries like Norway employ a multitude of vaccines to prevent as many pathogenic outbreaks as possible.
Even so, they find themselves limiting total allowable fish biomass and are forced to boost output incrementally, lest disease outbreaks lead to heavy losses.
On the other hand, Chilean salmon growers take advantage of Norway's restrained salmon production - only to find that the antibiotic levels used to boost stocking densities gets them banned from western supermarkets – and that such measures undermine seafood's reputation as a 'healthy' protein line."
Similarly, Thailand's use of ever higher stocking densities to maintain its top shrimp exporter position ended disastrously, with EMS causing it to lose half its world market share in just two years. At this point, no one expects Thailand to grow 600,000 tonnes of shrimp again any time in the foreseeable future. In China and Vietnam, the overuse of antibiotics to boost stocking densities and production led both to banned exports and later to Thai-style EMS crashes in shrimp production.
Indeed, nature's strong resistance to higher stocking densities and growing consumer revulsion to antibiotics make one thing clear: Because each country only has a finite volume of water resources, stocking densities' inability to keep up with demand implies that in the future, no one country will dominate an aquaculture line the way Thai shrimp did in the past, or the way Norwegian salmon does so today.
The opening up of new frontier areas in places such as Latin America might be the only sustainable, natural way of boosting the aquaculture output of many species.
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