Archive for July 2012

Not “Aquaculture’s Winston Churchill” — Maybe Something Better

July 21, 2012

In a recent post on the Aquaculture Means Business LinkedIn group, I expressed concern about a “leadership gap” in the aquaculture industry.  “We need Winston Churchill,” I wrote.

This dearth of leadership is not only a problem when organizations like Food & Water Watch crank out anti-aquaculture screeds  that pass as research  and few to no industry voices rise to set the record straight (allowing the web and the media regurgitation machine to propel the NGO’s message far and wide without scrutinizing its claims and unstated premises); it represents a huge opportunity cost throughout the global discussion on food availability, safety, and security. Aquaculture needs to be a key participant in this discussion, and if it is not, then shame on us!

So, it is particularly heartening when I read articles like this one  in SeafoodSource, highlighting Phil Cruver, CEO at KZO Sea Farms, who has quietly been building support for and advancing an open-ocean aquaculture initiative off the coast of California, of all places!  Phil recently received a provisional permit from the Army Corps of Engineers to establish a 100-acre bivalve farm 4.5 miles off Long Beach that, if approved, would be the first commercial offshore shellfish farm in federal waters.

I’ve had several phone and e-mail conversations with Phil over the past year, and, though he is an articulate spokesman, he is hardly a Winston Churchill. His manner is less that of the polished orator than of the no-nonsense businessman who recognizes an opportunity when he sees it. KZO is no “Mom & Pop” pipe-dream start-up, as a glance at the KZO leadership team shows.  Phil has founded four start‐ups and has served as CEO of two public companies.  He is the co‐ founder and former chairman of KZO Innovations Inc., a venture-capital-funded software company.

So, what is Phil doing right?

1. Right timing.  His efforts have closely tracked the the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s release last year of its national marine aquaculture policy.

2. Right product. His choice of oyster farming taps an existing market with strong local and regional demand for a product that is relatively uncontroversial from an environmental perspective, compared with, say, salmon or other finfish.  As the Army Corps of Engineers put it: “When properly sited, operated and maintained, commercial shellfish aquaculture activities generally result in minimal adverse effects on the aquatic environment and in many cases provide environmental benefits by improving water quality and wildlife habitat, and providing nutrient cycling functions.”  Even an aquaculture nemesis like Food & Water Watch has stated:  “Carefully located, well designed oyster, mussel and clam farms could help achieve the goal of expanding U.S. seafood production, while also providing food for health conscious, environmentally concerned consumers.”

3. Right partners. Phil has surrounded himself with the scientific and technical expertise he needs to make his venture a viable enterprise. KZO has partnered with USC/Wrigley to apply scientific research in the fields of genetics, physiology, and ecology to the challenges of cultivating shellfish Shellfish on Catalina Island off Southern California. Such partnerships confer scientific and environmental credibility.

4. Right scale. Phil is not afraid to think big, but neither is he a starry-eyed dreamscaper. Even as he works to get his California project off the ground, he is actively exploring ways to replicate his model globally in order to help developing nations access the $50 billion worldwide mariculture industry to diversify their economies in a manner that is not only sustainable but environmentally restorative.

So, Phil may not be aquaculture’s Winston Churchill, but his actions speak louder than words. You go, Phil — a lot of eyes are on KZO and wishing you a success worth emulating!

Time to Seize the Aquaculture Narrative

July 11, 2012

Sorry I’ve been so quiet of late. In addition to trying to maintain some semblance of a personal life, I have been involved in a number of projects in the past few months, some of which I hope to be able to blog about soon.

I’ve been quite bummed by the amount of negative press aquaculture has been getting recently, and downright depressed by the lack of industry response. Starting with Food and Water Watch’s latest “research”, more or less equating open-ocean aquaculture in all its forms with a plot by the soy industry to poison the planet — none of the media coverage of this report that I’ve seen has actually cited anyone from the aquaculture world. Why is this? A vast media conspiracy to torpedo aquaculture? Or simply because the industry has not done a thing to make it easy for journalists to get a balancing quote or even to know who to ask for one? If I’m a reporter and I get a report slammed down on my desk and am told to “work something up on this” for deadline, who do I call to hear the aquaculture industry’s side of the story? Apart from the Soy Aquaculture Alliance’s press release in response, no voices have been raised with any volume to counter the F&WW’s claims. And guys — even though “Aquaculture” is in the alliance’s name, the most thoughtful and articulate response from an entity representing part of the soy industry does the aquaculture industry no good in this case because F&WW has already framed soy as the villain in the aquaculture narrative.

F&WW is an overt enemy of the aquaculture industry, but the industry’s greatest enemy from what I’ve seen in my brief period observing it is this fragmented, argumentative, and defeatist industry itself. I hear more bickering about RAS versus open-ocean and brooding about how “nobody wants to invest in aquaculture” than I do constructive discussion about how to fix these problems — if they are, in fact, real problems. Nobody wants to invest in aquaculture? That’s not what I’m hearing when I step out of the echo chamber and listen to folks in the investment world. Investors are sitting on loads of capital, looking for the next big thing to pour it into. Why aren’t they lavishing this largess on aquaculture? Would you invest in an industry that keeps handing its enemies knives and and sitting around quibbling over minutiae, waiting to have its throat cut, its last words being “See? I told you they didn’t like us!”?

Now is the time to seize the aquaculture narrative from its detractors and begin telling a story consumers and investors will appreciate and open their hearts and wallets to. A story that has the added virtue of being true: Properly sited, well-managed aquaculture projects have the potential to feed the world sustainably, create jobs, ensure food security and safety, and even restore the health of our damaged oceans. And as for the business case: If we can’t turn a profit producing food for a planet whose mouths and stomachs are only multiplying, then shame on us!

That’s a pretty good story. It’s one we need to be able to tell and support with facts. Are we up to it?


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