Lessons Learned from the Global Outlook on Aquaculture Leadership (GOAL) Conference

I recently had the pleasure of participating in a retail panel discussion at the Global Aquaculture Alliance’s annual Global Outlook on Aquaculture Leadership (GOAL) conference in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

This year’s overarching theme was “Celebrating Leadership” in acknowledgement of the challenges of responsible aquaculture and the need for collaboration to overcome those challenges. Being relatively new to the field of responsible aquaculture, I took full advantage of the opportunity to learn from the industry experts, retailer and foodservice buyers, investors, and academic researchers in attendance.

In my opinion, there are four main takeaways from the conference:

  1. Early mortality syndrome (EMS) in farmed shrimp is still a major problem and seafood buyers should diversify their sources to minimize risk
  2. Zone management of farm clusters is a potential solution to the looming dilemma of how to develop the aquaculture industry responsibly
  3. Responsible feed production will require a shift from wild fish protein to alternative protein sources
  4. There is widespread acknowledgement that human rights abuses in the aquaculture industry are real and need to be addressed but there is uncertainty around how

The first two takeaways are closely linked. Zone management was touted as an effective solution to fight EMS and prevent future aquaculture epidemics. Showing strong support for this view, the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA) announced the development of a fifth star in the Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) certification scheme for zone management. GAA was vague on the details of the standard, but seemed confident that it will be able to address a wide range of aquaculture challenges, including disease management and engaging small-scale farmers.

The topic of responsible feed was the most divisive. Alternatives to wild fish protein are severely lacking. Soybeans, rendered animal products and insects were discussed as alternatives, but none struck me as being both viable and responsible in the short term. The path forward appears to be a two-pronged approach of improving the fisheries involved in fishmeal and fish oil production through improvement projects and continuing to research and develop alternatives.

The issue of human rights was clearly the newest and the most uncomfortable for conference attendees to discuss. Everyone passionately agreed that something must be done, but what and how? Fortunately, FishWise has been tracking the issue of human rights abuses in seafood supply chains for some time now and so I was able to make a contribution to this area of discussion during the retail panel.

Despite the numerous challenges facing aquaculture, the tone of the conference was optimistic. Everyone agrees that growing the aquaculture industry in an environmentally and socially responsible way is critical and that collaboration between different links in the supply chain is necessary to achieve this goal.

Author: Kathleen Mullen-Ley

My name is Kathleen Mullen-Ley, and I am a project manager for FishWise. FishWise, a nonprofit sustainable seafood consultancy, has been working with Hy-Vee to research and recommend seafood product sourcing, develop and implement Hy-Vee's Responsible Choice Seafood materials and staff training, and analyze data to measure progress towards Hy-Vee's 2015 Commitment. I hold a master’s degree in marine biodiversity and conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography and a Bachelor of Arts in environmental studies from the University of California Santa Cruz. My graduate research project was an analysis of the World Trade Organization ruling on the U.S. dolphin-safe tuna label and its implications for future market-based marine conservation efforts. My experience analyzing fishery management issues and communicating marine science to diverse audiences combined with my respect for ocean life has made me well-prepared to take on the challenges of sustainable seafood.

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