Scientists, executives and policymakers from around the world discuss Asian aquaculture's coming intensification and collaborative approaches to its actualization.
By Eric J. BROOKS
Breeding, nutrition, health, investment and IT-based farm management keynoted this year's edition of Aquaculture Singapore (AquaSG'18), which was held at Singapore's Temasek Polytechnic from October 3rd through 6th. Organized by Blue Aqua Group, Singapore's ministry of national development and Temasek Polytechnic, AquaSg'18 attracted a diverse array of aquaculture academics, executives and policymakers from around Southeast Asia, India, Europe and the United States.
Zaqy Mohamad, minister of state for Singapore's ministry of national development opened proceedings, proclaiming AquaSg "A platform for industry players and the exchange of ideas." Noting that "there are plenty of synergies if we work together", Mohamad's aspired that this event "can help optimize resources, increase productivity and create food security throughout the Southeast Asia region."
Dr. Farshad Sheshehchian, CEO of Blue Aqua International, gave an excellent overview of aquaculture's current status. Rising world protein demand and aquaculture's superior feed conversion ratios were juxtaposed against a slew of challenges.
Noting that fishmeal's replacement with soymeal has created an array of problems, he left open the question of "What kind of protein will we feed our aquaculture farms?" Similarly, with East Asian nations from Thailand to China having run out of frontier areas, Sheshehchian declared current intensive fish farming methods "Old fashioned; they take up too many resources. Super intensive farming with AI [artificial intelligence] where you use less land, less water while getting more output is the way forward."
Alongside higher risk and a more proactive management style, increased intensification brings with it the challenge of controlling pond nitrogen levels. Not surprisingly, Sheshehchian was followed by an overview of nitrogen's role by Dr. Charles E. Boyd, Auburn University's Fisheries School professor emeritus. Boyd discussed the role played by everything from bacteria-based biochemical pathways to phosphate levels and sludge management in mitigating the toxic impact of nitrogenous waste products such as ammonia.
The first day closed with Sheshehchian returning to his theme of super-intensification: More specifically, he explained the roles that will be played by artificial intelligence (AI) and smart farming technology in super-intensive aquaculture's actualization. In the AI enabled aquaculture vision, online sensors and databases feed complex decision support systems to instantly respond to monitored water quality, bacterial flora and fish health conditions. This both saves labour costs and makes the raising species such as shrimp at extremely high stocking densities possible.
Having addressed foundational environmental management issues, day two's presenters moved up the production chain. Xu Qunying from Singapore's Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) explained the advantages and challenges of growing fry and larvae on a rotifer diet. He explained the roles played by filtration, UV sterilization, micro algae and fatty acid levels in making it safe to give shrimp larvae this form of natural live feed.
Xu's insights into using rotifer as live feed would be later complimented by those of Protenga Pte Ltd managing director Leo Wein, who explained the advantages, challenges and role that insects can play in aqua feed. He was followed by James Cook University's Dr. Jose Donmingos, who explained how mimicking seasonal variations in factors such as temperature, daylight hours, feed availability and pheromone levels are essential to the reproductive success of tropical marine food fish raised in closed, high-density environments.
Vaisakhi Bio-Marine CEO Ravikumar Yellanki closed out the second morning with a highly detailed, epic 360° overview of India's ascent from late 2000s obscurity to becoming the top shrimp exporter by 2015. This included statistical breakdowns of everything from state pond productivity differences to export destinations.
According to Yellanki, achieving an exponential 600% increase in shrimp export volumes from 100,000 tonnes of shrimp exports in 2010 to 700,000 tonnes by 2017 required proactive responses to a wide array of challenges, ranging from chronic disease outbreaks to EU trade barriers. He believes the greatest challenges facing the industry at this time are low prices, resuming regular exports to the EU and most importantly, "a need to move up the value chain."
One of Yellanki's most fascinating insights is that shrimp market cycles are controlled by disease trends and not just mere supply, demand and price adjustments. This admission of pathogens' increasingly prominent role in constraining production was further explored in the second day's afternoon sessions.
The rest of day two implicitly recognized the biosecurity implications of disease cycles mattering to shrimp more than market forces. James Cook University's Dr. Giana Gomes concurred with Yellanki's assertion, stating that, "40% of current aquaculture production is lost due to diseases" and that this "constrains the continued growth and profitability of the sector."
Towards the prevention of such outcomes, Gomes discussed her development and usage of environmental background DNA monitoring in tracking water-based parasite population densities. The latter can then be used to predict and prevent infections before they cause serious material and monetary losses.
Gomes was followed by Temasek Polytechnic's Dr. Padmanabhan Saravanan, who discussed how optical immunoassay diagnostic kits can rapidly detect even virus-sized pathogens. When integrated with Smart Farm technology and AI based farm management systems (which detect compounds that encourage pathogen growth), the techniques discussed by Gomes and Saravanan can proactively mitigate underlying disease-causing conditions before an outbreak can ever occur.
Having established the opportunity, scope and challenges facing Asian aquaculture, the conference's third day focused on its investment potential. Georg Baunach, Hatch Blue Ltd's co-founder and development director, discussed capital and technological requirements for building an intensive aquaculture investment ecosystem. He noted that innovators and their technological advances often "lack the necessary support in the form of access to early stage risk capital, industry connections and technical as well as commercial know how."
Treating such investment shortfalls as an opportunity, Baunach then described how his company invested in various aquaculture startups in concert with public-private partnerships (PPP) and industry associations, so as to "create an ecosystem for external innovation in aquaculture technology."
Baunach's description of such private sector efforts was followed by Ms. I. Rani Humudini, chief executive of India's National Fisheries Development Board. Ms. Humdini, who complimented Yellanki's earlier analysis of India's shrimp sector with her perspective as a senior government policymaker. Detailing Indian government policies, programs and aquaculture development priorities, Rani emphasized that government's role is, "Not just regulations but enabling the creation of an enabling environment is required."
Rani's presentation, in concert with previous one, was pointing strongly to one conference conclusion: For super-intensive aquaculture, the way forward requires not just new technology or farm management techniques but extensive, well co-ordinated public-private partnerships between aquaculture academics, decision-makers and government policymakers.
Day three ended with an overview of Indonesia's aquaculture sector, which is by far the largest one in Southeast Asia. Robert E. Kusnadi, vice-president of Shrimp Club Indonesia gave an overview of his nation's aquaculture capital and its investment needs summing them up as, "Number one, is information, number two is policy and number three is money." Emphasizing that Indonesian law requires such foreign investment to be made with a local equity partner, he named hatchery, fry and larvae rearing, farm management and fish processing as his nation's primary aquaculture frontiers.
All this abstract idea sharing was then followed by day four's visit to sponsor Blue Aqua's Singapore breeding center, and Singapore's Marine Aquaculture Centre, which is operated by the country's Agrifood and Veterinary Authority (AVA). Alongside providing an exposition of aquaculture innovations that will eventually be exported to neighboring Southeast Asian countries, the tour gave a hands-on, real-world back drop to the previous three day's more abstract idea sharing forums.
All this made AquaSg'18 a highly relevant comprehensive forum on Asian aquaculture's opportunities, challenges and growth path. It laid out a firm path for the technology and public sector, private sector and NGO co-operation required to take the industry to its next level, while providing a strong foundation for this event's next edition.
Date: 3 - 6 October
Venue: School of Applied Science, Temasek Polytechnic, Singapore
Organiser: Blue Aqua Group, Singapore's ministry of national development and Temasek Polytechnic
Tel: + 65 6481 1722
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