Time to Seize the Aquaculture Narrative

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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