Meeting global nutrition needs through responsible aquaculture

Aquaculture has a huge role to play in feeding the ever-increasing global population and technology is key to improving productivity while maintaining high welfare standards, explains the Global Aquaculture Alliance.

Aquaculture is the fastest growing food production sector and by 2030 62% of the fish that we eat will be from fish farms. The Global Aquaculture Alliance, founded in 1997, is an international non-governmental organisation dedicated to advocacy, education and leadership in responsible aquaculture, with 3,000 members from over 60 countries.

Its vision is ‘a world that embraces and enables the role of responsibly farmed seafood in meeting global nutrition needs’, but with a fast growing global population, demand for resources is ever-increasing, bringing with it a host of challenges.

The Global Aquaculture Alliance talks to Innovation News Network’s Managing Editor Michelle Gordon about using innovation to meet those challenges and upholding best practice within the sector.

Tell me more about your mission of ‘responsible aquaculture’ and how it is being delivered

The Global Aquaculture Alliance’s approach to responsible aquaculture is two-fold. We demonstrate that aquaculture is done responsibly thought our Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) third-party certification programme. BAP is the world’s largest and most comprehensive aquaculture certification programme with standards addressing environmental responsibility, social responsibility, animal health and welfare, and food safety. It encompasses the entire aquaculture production chain — processing plants, farms, hatcheries and feed mills – and there are more than 2,400 BAP-certified processing plants, farms, hatcheries, and feed mills in 35 countries worldwide.

Additionally, we advocate and educate for aquaculture done responsibly through our various pre-competitive activities, all of which act as a forum for thought leaders to discuss shared responsibilities and goals. These activities include our online magazine (Global Aquaculture Advocate), conference (GOAL), and podcast (Aquademia), all of which are possible thanks to the continued support of our members and sponsors.

What are the biggest challenges currently facing the global aquaculture sector and how are these being overcome?

Like any food sector, the aquaculture sector is always pushing to be more efficient, i.e. doing more with less. Innovations in aquaculture production systems, processing automation, feeding techniques, and feed ingredients and formulations are contributing to a more resource efficient aquaculture sector. There will be 10 billion people to feed on Earth by 2050, and aquaculture will play a major role in that, as wild fisheries production has essentially levelled off and fish are more resource efficient than other animal proteins.

How does the Global Aquaculture Alliance promote best practice in animal welfare?

The Global Aquaculture Alliance is fully committed to promoting best practice in animal health and welfare through its BAP standards. Animal health and welfare is one of the five pillars of the BAP certification programme, along with:

  • Environmental responsibility;
  • Social accountability;
  • Food safety; and
  • Traceability.

In addition to the BAP programme, the Global Aquaculture Alliance promotes best practices in animal health and welfare through its pre-competitive education and advocacy work. In May 2020, the Global Aquaculture Alliance published the results of a study designed to identify and strengthen best practice for animal welfare in aquaculture. The completion of the study signified a milestone in a multi-phase project that began in December 2017 when the Global Aquaculture Alliance was awarded a $435,000 grant from the Open Philanthropy Project.

Earlier this year, the Global Aquaculture Alliance co-operated with Compassion In World Farming on its campaign targeting animal welfare standards in five seafood certification programmes. What are your thoughts on the recommendations of the campaign?

The Global Aquaculture Alliance co-operated by filling out a questionnaire that eventually led to the Compassion In World Farming (CIWF) campaign targeting the animal welfare standards of five seafood certification programmes, including BAP.

The Global Aquaculture Alliance shares CIWF’s aspiration of adapting humane slaughter methods for each aquaculture species, but time must be taken to gather scientific evidence and commercial validation.

At present, Issue 5.0 of the BAP Seafood Processing Standard requires animals to be rendered insensible prior to humane slaughter according to methods such as those recommended by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). The Global Aquaculture Alliance, in collaboration with the Responsible Aquaculture Foundation and with support from the Open Philanthropy Fund, has started by reviewing published literature, engaging research studies, developing online education modules, and awarding prizes to innovative leaders in this field. As new information is developed and validated, BAP standards are continually revised and updated.

Although we appreciate CIWF’s suggestions for improvements in fish welfare, care must be taken in imposing broad guidelines that might cause unintended consequences given the complexities of each species and region.

For example, CIWF would like to see species’ specific maximum stocking densities, but such standards must account for the wide range of culture systems and management controls around the world. Consider shrimp farming, where highly sustainable intensive farms are being developed with advanced controls for animal health, water and sediment quality, feeding, and harvesting. While the densities are higher in these systems than in conventional ponds, stress, disease, and mortality are greatly reduced.

In this statement, we respond to each of CIWF’s areas of suggested improvement. The Global Aquaculture Alliance also encourages CIWF to join our animal health and welfare journey by becoming more actively involved in the development and improvement process for the BAP Standards.

Why is it important for the global aquaculture sector to continually innovate and how does the Global Aquaculture Alliance encourage and support innovation within the aquaculture sector?

Again, the answer is twofold. Firstly, our stringent BAP standards push producers to find innovative solutions to the challenges facing aquaculture. Secondly, by highlighting innovations in aquaculture through our online magazine, conference, and other pre-competitive activities, we are championing the people in industry and academia who are doing things correctly and pushing the sector to be more innovative and efficient.

The Global Aquaculture Alliance is a convener, bringing like-minded people together to solve the industry’s challenges.

It believes in the theory of continual improvement and without innovation, aquaculture will be unable to help feed 10 billion people by 2050 in a sustainable, resource efficient manner.

Tell us more about the work of Simão Zacarias, the recipient of this year’s eighth annual Global Aquaculture Innovation Award, on the shrimp-hatchery practice of unilateral eyestalk ablation. What implications will his research have for the future?

Simão Zacarias, a University of Stirling researcher has proven that eyestalk ablation in shrimps is unnecessary and increases vulnerability to disease.

His work focuses on the standard shrimp hatchery practice of unilateral eyestalk ablation to achieve higher egg production, which is a key animal welfare issue.  Based on evidence from his research in shrimp hatcheries in Honduras and Thailand, Zacarias proved in laboratory testing that postlarvae and juveniles from non-ablated Pacific white shrimp broodstock showed higher survival rates when they were challenged with Acute Hepatopancreatic Necrosis Disease and White Spot Virus Disease.

He also believes that by providing high-quality, nutritious feed to broodstock in their pre-maturation stage, shrimp farmers can achieve a similar egg production rate without resorting to eyestalk ablation. Another means to achieving the same egg production rate is managing the sex ratio in breeding tanks and increasing the ratio of male-to-female shrimp from 1:1 to 1:2.

Based on his research to date, his message to shrimp hatcheries and farmers is to stop eyestalk ablation and that they can gain an advantage by producing more robust post-larvae and juveniles that represent a more valuable and marketable product for the adopting hatchery, with better survival and better finances.

He believes that this innovation can be expected to become a key health strategy in shrimp farming going forward.

Zacarias’ work is driven by the demand for better animal welfare practices in shrimp hatcheries and, by highlighting his research, we hope that more shrimp hatcheries will learn from and adopt the best practices he is advocating for.

Global Aquaculture Alliance
Tweet @GAA_Aquaculture

Please note, this article will also appear in the fourth edition of our new quarterly publication.

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