Industry leaders reconnect at Aquaculture America
March 10, 2022
By Jean Ko Din
Aquaculture 2022 in San Diego is the first industry event as restrictions loosen
Shaking hands is back in style as aquaculturists, suppliers and researchers come together for in-person industry events.
The World Aquaculture Society’s triennial Aquaculture 2022 event was the first major industry event in the US as pandemic restrictions loosen. The conference took place from Feb. 28-March 4 at Town and Country Resort in San Diego, CA.
“The thing that’s important is everybody here had a great time because they’re so happy to see their colleagues and friends in-person, instead of a two-inch box on the screen,” said John Cooksey, executive director of the World Aquaculture Society. “I thought the event was extremely good, considering the situation in the world and all the problems going on. And the fact that a few weeks ago, we weren’t sure what was going to happen.”
Almost 2,000 aquaculturists, industry suppliers, investors and researchers attended the event, down from the 3,000 to 4,000 attendees pre-pandemic. All were required to show proof of vaccination status. Most exhibitors and attendees agree that they have made quality business connections during the week.
“The pandemic is like a filter. The wannabes, the maybe interested, and the maybe I’ve got this wild idea. They don’t come,” said Paul Zajicek, executive director of the National Aquaculture Association. “I’ve talked to some of the exhibitors. They are happy. They’re doing better business in the smaller meetings, because there’s the filter.”
With almost 70 per cent of the Californian population fully vaccinated, the state has begun lifting many of its COVID-19 restrictions. On Feb. 15, the California Department of Public Health amended its masking guidance to no longer require universal indoor masking. On March 1, the requirement for unvaccinated persons to mask in indoor public settings also relaxed to a “strong recommendation.”
Only a few attendees at the conference were seen wearing a mask, while most have felt free to be shaking hands with business colleagues once again.
“We have been attending this conference for years and we are very thrilled to be back,” said Alia Icaza, who attended the event with her husband, Roberto, owner and operator of the South Florida Farming Corp. “We have a lot of acquaintances and we bought a lot of from these manufacturers, so we are reconnecting, and talking, and attending the conference to see and hear what is new in the market and in research.”
Sustainability was a main theme that was addressed through sessions throughout the conference, starting with a keynote from food security economist, Rosamond Naylor. Naylor, who is senior fellow and founding director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment at Stanford Univeristy, presented a “20-year retrospective” on how aquaculture has moved toward sustainability over the years.
Her latest study, published in March 2021 in Nature, is a follow-up to a controversial 2000 report in which she named aquaculture as a “solution, but potential problem” for the sustainability of wild fisheries.
“We looked at the volume of global aquaculture production, which tripled in liveweight over that 20-year period. We saw positive trends, I’d say, across the board,” said Naylor. “But we also did note that the sector is facing mounting challenges with pathogen management, pollution, climate change, and increasing dependence on land-based resources.”
Throughout the conference, researchers and experts discussed the latest in sustainability initiatives in the global industry, including the latest in aquaponics, recirculating aquaculture systems and the emerging macroalgae aquaculture.
Navigating the waters of aquaculture regulations was another hot topic at the conference. With the looming deadline for BC salmon farmers’ license renewals in the Discovery Islands, many fellow aquaculturists at the event are worried about what it could mean for the North American industry as a whole.
“What’s really going to be tough is emotion and politics are going to put thousands of people out of work. And with little or no legitimacy from an environmental impact point of view,” said Sebastian Belle, executive director of Maine Aquaculture Association.
“I think the politicians who are leading that charge and making those decisions are doing their own constituents a great disservice… It’s very concerning, I think, for all of us in the sector.”
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