Archive for October 2011

Some Kick-Ass Aquaculture Storytelling

October 29, 2011

I’m guessing everyone who follows aquaculture is aware to greater and lesser degrees of the technical, environmental, and political challenges the industry faces. Well (in the spirit of the adage, “Give a child a hammer and suddenly everything becomes a nail”), I’d like to talk a bit about the challenge/opportunity that doesn’t seem to be discussed with anywhere near the knowledge and sophistication with which these are talked about. I hesitate to call it “marketing” — I’m thinking about something more fundamental. Call it “storytelling”.

I don’t endear myself to my aquaculture friends who ask me for marketing advice when I tell them, “You’re not ready for marketing. You don’t even have a story”. They want me to share some magical secret about better packaging or website design or social media strategy. The real secret isn’t a secret at all: there is no stronger magic than a good story.

Below are two examples of some of the better aquaculture storytelling I’ve seen.  Whatever critiques I might make from a “marketing” perspective, there is no doubt that these are kick-ass stories — and without a kick-ass story behind it,  “marketing” is just white noise.

In the spirit of my previous post,  these examples draw from both the offshore and inland recirculating worlds.  I’m not vouching for the accuracy of any of what you’ll see in these clips; all I know is that the stories move me and make me want to know more.  Please let me know if they do (or don’t) have the same effect on you.

The first was shared with my by, I believe, Tetsuzan Benny Ron, the aquaculture program coordinator at the University of Hawaii:

The second was provided by Gareth Lott, founder and CEO at Aquanue:

Nice examples of aquaculture storytelling that can and should be emulated and built upon.


Offshore, Inland…Can’t We All Get Along?

October 29, 2011

“I’m beginning to see a pattern here,” writes Clifford Goudey in the discussion DOES the Future Lie in Offshore Aquaculture? on the Aquaculture Means Business group  on LinkedIn. “Promoters of land-based aquaculture technologies seem compelled to criticize the emerging offshore aquaculture industry. Is this because it is viewed as a threat to your bottom line? ”

In my brief time following the global aquaculture industry, I’ve seen a bit of what Clifford describes, working in both directions.  It often seems to me that advocates of different technologies and techniques spend valuable energy slamming competing technologies and techniques — energy that might be better spent collaborating creatively to develop a portfolio of methods that could profitably and sustainably help feed a growing human population.

Clifford completes his thought as follows:

“I think that with the unfulfilled and growing demand for seafood this behavior is unwarranted and counter productive. Farmed fish has enough detractors without such nonsense coming from within the aquaculture sector. A further reason for tolerance across sectors is to reduce the risk of reactionary criticism developing regarding RAS [recirculating aquaculture systems] and other land-based technologies, legitimate or otherwise.”

I couldn’t agree more.  Let’s not turn into these guys:

Put Your Aquaculture Operation on the Map

October 25, 2011 is aggregating aquaculture farms and schools on a Google Map located on its  homepage. Check it out and, if you’d like to have your operation included, send your information to

Does the Future Lie With Offshore Aquaculture?

October 23, 2011

A very rich and productive conversation is going on in the Aquaculture Means Business group  on LinkedIn:  Initiated by group member Michael Albert with the post Future Lies With Offshore Aquaculture, the discussion (12 days old and 45 comments long as I type these words) has been dissecting the original article’s argument and exploded to explore the relative merits of other approaches.  I’m going to do my best in this post to distill the essence of the participants’ positions, but I STRONGLY RECOMMEND that you at least skim the discussion thread, as some of the participants have included valuable links in support of their cases.

(I’m attempting to give a thumbnail summary here — if I inadvertently misrepresent anyone’s arguments, please let me know)

Here goes:

The original article sites Michael Schwartz, Ph.D., of Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Va., who argues that “Offshore marine environments offer tremendous potential for seafood production…partly because of limits on land-based or near-shore systems….  However, developing offshore aquaculture presents more than its share of challenges….  Technology for offshore aquaculture is advancing but still in its infancy and there are considerable cost concerns to contend with.”

“We’re not talking about a quick turnaround” for investors, Schwartz says.

Among the challenges to offshore aquaculture, the article sites:

  • Developing feed formulations that require less natural resources (40 nutrients are necessary to raise healthy fish, according to NOAA science coordinator Mike Rust);
  • A “complicated regulatory presence” including local, state and federal layers of government.

Dr. Michael Rubino, director of NOAA Fisheries’ aquaculture program, said that a “complicated regulatory presence” including local, state and federal layers of government, is another major constraint for aquaculture producers operating in U.S. waters, second only to the cost of feed.

“It’s a complicated and uncertain process for businesses to go through,” said Rubino. “Many businesses are simply going to other countries rather than growing seafood at home.”

“OK, so the problem is recognized,” posts Aquaculture Means Business group member Clifford Goudey. “Now what is NOAA going to do about it. The industry has been explaining what is needed for more than 30 years, yet we are still talking about it. Now, more than ever, one would think that jobs might trump bureaucratic inertia.”

Clifford, an engineer with over 30 years of experience in developing technologies for working on and under the ocean aimed at “the introduction of innovative ways of tapping the productivity of the ocean in more sustainable ways”, believes  ” the technology is already available to successfully pursue offshore aquaculture from both an environmental and an economic perspective using submerged containment,” as demonstrated by private enterprise’s involvement in the practice, outside the U.S.

“They have to do it in other countries, remote from the market, where there is a permitting mechanism to facilitate it,” Clifford argues. “In my view we are beyond the need for government funding support. Just get the permitting process in place and they will come.”

AMB group member Gary Myers agrees that government inattention to improving the regulatory environment for offshore aquaculture is the fundamental problem. But Gary, a consultant who specializes in aquaculture Business development and facility design, argues that investing in offshore methods while lobbying and hoping for regulatory change may not be the best use of operators’ energy and resources.

“Can we expect the US government to make any serious improvements opening the opportunity for ocean based aquaculture in the US?” Gary asks. “The history is not good and the future remains a big question; are we wasting the US research dollars on this technology? NOAA has some responsibility for proposing regulatory changes but we have seen very little improvement yet NOAA and others continue to spend research dollars on ocean technology and the research workshops as cited above continue to believe the future is ocean based aquaculture….

“Maybe it is time to focus more on land based aquaculture and solve the associated problems. We may be able to solve these problems in a few years, whereas in 30 years we have not solved the regulatory problem let alone a few remaining technology problems associated with open ocean production…”

Dave Conley, senior consultant and founding Partner at Aquaculture Communications Group and executive director of Aquaculture Without Frontiers, calls attention to the Velella drifter cage project currently being conducted by Kona Blue Water Farms.

“In my mind,” Dave writes, “this bold initiative by Neil Sims and colleagues is reminiscent of the early years of the space program in the 1960s and may lead to numerous advances in other disciplines as a result. Consequently, this project needs and deserves our support as a forward thinking industry.”

Dave’s post about the Velella project generates positive responses from some members, while Gary Myers seems skeptical that offshore aquaculture can overcome cost pressures associated with transportation costs for feed and product. Clifford Myers and John Holmyard, owner of  Offshore Shellfish Ltd., argue that these challenges can be overcome, initially at least, by focusing on high-end products that can command a market premium.

Perhaps the most “outside-the-box” approach is being advocated by Bhaskar Mallimadugula, who asks:  “Has anyone thought of merely restoring fisheries in open ocean so that you can just go out and catch the fish and not have to grow them in cages or other enclosures?” Bhaskar’s  Kadambari Consultants Pvt. Ltd. promotes  fertilizing oceans to cause phytoplankton blooms, “so that carbon is sequestered when phytoplankton die and sink to ocean depths.”  I cannot pretend to understand the technology Bhaskar advocates, let alone its potential implications for ocean health and food supply, but the fact that far more knowledgeable AMB group members than me are not simply dismissing his approach out of hand.  In the discussion of Bhaskar’s proposed approach, members provide links to help readers draw conclusions.

Again, I STRONGLY ENCOURAGE interested readers invest the time to read this discussion thread. What I have written here only scratches the surface of the topmost layer of the iceberg.  The people I’ve cited — and the other group members I’ve not mentioned who are part of this fascinating discussion — have a lot more knowledge to share.

What most impresses me most about the discussions on this group is respectful, constructive tone in which knowledgeable people, often with very different — even opposing — points of view discuss aquaculture topics that matter from a business perspective.  These are the kinds of conversations that need to be encouraged and appreciated if the industry is to grow profitably and sustainably.


Why Am I Doing This?

October 16, 2011

The following post is an excerpt of one that appeared a year ago in the feeble first iteration of this blog, created on Tumblr.  Over the ensuing year, I’ve created and moderated the Aquaculture Means Business group on LinkedIn, where I’ve had the privilege of getting to know a lot of people who know an awful lot more about the business of aquaculture than I do or probably ever will.  I now feel better prepared to begin delivering on my goal of bringing together people, ideas and resources in support of  a sustainable, profitable global aquaculture industry.

With that disclosure behind me, here I go again.  Wish me luck!

Why Am I Doing This?

Answering this question is as good a place to start as any.

I love the ocean, always have. In particular, I love to eat things that come out of the ocean. Several years ago, when my doctor told me I should eat more fish to help my “good cholesterol”, I thought, “Hot damn! Medical advice I may actually follow!”

I’d long known the world’s oceans were being abused, but it was only in recent years that I began to understand the extent of the problem and its interconnected causes.  What pushed me over the edge was the book Bottom Feeder by Taras Grescoe. Like most people, I was aware of the mercury issue (though part of me thought, “Wasn’t that in the ’70s? No one talks about it anymore – probably was just one of those overblown health scares that crop up from time to time!”); I knew plastics in the ocean were a problem, but I kind of vaguely thought it was just the occasional seabird or turtle getting snagged in a plastic six-pack holder (sad, but hardly something to get all activist about); and aquaculture — well, I thought farming fish was just a really cool idea, but why would anyone buy farmed fish when the ocean was just teeming with them?

Then I picked up Bottom Feeder. I won’t go into detail here, but let’s just say I promptly gave up shrimp, salmon, and tuna. As I read more on the subject — especially The End of the Line by Charles Clover — I began to wonder if I could ever eat seafood in good conscience again. And the more I learned about the global food industry, the more I wondered whether I could ever eat ANYTHING again.

It took a series of conversations with people like Casson Trenor, of Sustainable Sushi fame, and chef and sustainability activist Barton Seaver, and others, to persuade me that, yes, it is possible to enjoy seafood in ways that make you part of the solution, rather than part of the problem. But it is not easy. I filled my pockets with Seafood Watch cards that I passed out with cult-like zeal to friends, family members, and strangers. I began researching concepts for ocean-friendly businesses.

Aquaculture, I came to believe, has to be part of the solution — however, I quickly learned that my view was not shared by some of my environmentalist friends. At a premiere of the film version of The End of the Line I thought a fistfight was going to break out when one of the viewers suggested during a post-viewing Q&A that the film had given fish farming short shrift.  To be sure, there are major issues concerning feed and waste — some of the same issues that turned me off of shrimp and salmon after reading Bottom Feeder — but I do believe these are issues that can be addressed.

Many of the environmental problems we face were created by business, and I have always believed business must play a role in solving them. Activist passion and the profit motive have to learn to become allies, rather than adversaries. Those of us who care about the oceans have to put our money where our mouths are. Consumers have to learn to make food-buying decisions based on more than price and to hold businesses accountable for the social and environmental impacts of their practices. Businesses have to do more than use words like “green” or “sustainable” in their marketing materials.

More to the point, though, business must return to its roots of satisfying existing needs, rather than artificially creating new ones.

That, in part, is why I’m doing this.

%d bloggers like this: