I just returned from the Global Aquaculture Alliance’s GOAL 2018 conference in Guayaquil, Ecuador where I had the opportunity to speak as part of a panel on ‘Science Nonfiction: How Biotechnology is Shaping Food’s Future’. The panel was moderated by GAA’s James Wright, who did a fantastic job of keeping us focused on addressing some of the industry’s key issues.
The questions I and the other three speakers were asked during our session indicated a growing understanding of the need for new protein sources if we are going to close the looming protein feed deficit and ensure the continued expansion of the aquaculture industry.
One thing I found really interesting was the results of a poll conducted by GAA on the growing importance of biotechnology in aquaculture. Of the attendees, 82% said ‘Biotechnology plus aquaculture is the future of animal protein production’. Only 6% disagreed, saying ‘it’s not natural, I don’t support it’, and 7% said ‘I don’t really understand it’.
If that same question had been asked 2 or 3 years ago, I’d be willing to guess the majority of people wouldn’t have seen the importance of biotechnology in aquaculture. Such a big shift in awareness in a short period says several things to me: First, the people in our industry are practical and results oriented- if something is shown to work they are prepared to adopt it. Second, the industry is very aware that we face a protein feed deficit and unless this is resolved, the industry will not be able to grow. And third, we need to continue to find ways to communicate with the general public. As fellow panelist and industry veteran Vonnie Estes shared, “we need to meet people where they are and not hit them over the head with data”.
When I was an undergraduate studying biology at the University of Massachusetts 22 years ago, I interned for a semester in Ecuador researching shrimp genetics through the University of Guayaquil. It was great to get back to the place where my biology career was launched. While walking around the streets of the city, I got a first hand look at how much cleaner, more developed, and safer it is compared to how it was a couple decades ago.
I am sure these developments didn’t happen overnight, but as someone returning after a long time away, they were dramatic. Similarly, being ‘in the trenches’ of the aquaculture industry makes it hard to see the day-to-day changes as they are occurring, but if we compare where we are now to where we were 10 years ago there is clear progress. And I am confident, when we look back to this day a decade down the road, we will see an equally dramatic shift in general sentiment towards the application of biotechnology for food security. I sure hope so, because the world needs the combined efforts of the biotechnology and aquaculture communities if we are going to eliminate food insecurity. 82% is good, next stop – 100%!