Interview of the Week: Jon White, RADM (Ret.) and CEO Consortium for Ocean Leadership
(From Our Daily Planet/ By Monica Medina and Miro Korenha) — Admiral White is President and CEO of the leading consortium of ocean science and technology institutions from academia, public aquariums, and industry. He spent 32 years in the Navy where he served ultimately as the Navy’s chief scientist. He is an expert on ocean resources and we asked him about one area of growing interest — aquaculture.
ODP: With wild capture fisheries unable to keep up with the need for protein globally, is much more aquaculture development inevitable?
AJW: Absolutely! The world’s population is fast approaching eight billion and is on its way to at least nine by mid-century. Protein from the sea is essential to meet the growing demand, yet the majority of wild-caught fisheries are being fished at or increasingly above sustainable rates. In most nations, the majority of seafood consumed is from aquaculture sources already, but we must dramatically increase the amount of farmed seafood we consume — especially finfish — to meet demand and allow our natural fisheries to recover.
ODP: What are the biggest areas of risks associated with finfish aquaculture and is there sufficient research funding to develop solutions to those risks?
AJW: Escapement and feed impacts. Farmed fish (near or offshore) that escape and enter the environment can lead to the spread of invasive species, undesired genetics, or even illnesses. The design and construction of fish pens and monitoring systems can reduce or prevent escapes, and additional (government-funded) research and development are needed for more effective and affordable means to do this on a grand scale. Another major and legitimate concern is the impact of fish food and fish waste on the environment. This can be resolved through nutritional research with the goal to produce alternative feed sources that are affordable, healthier for the ocean (put less nitrogen and phosphorus in the water), safe for human consumption, and that reduce overfishing risk of species used for fish meal.
ODP: What does the U.S. aquaculture industry need federal and state governments to do to foster growth?
AJW: I believe the industry needs public-private partnerships for research and development, clear authorities for permitting or even leases, and concerted champions for sustainable fish aquaculture to get communities and consumers onboard. Accelerated advancements in U.S. agriculture came about through vigorous federal and state funding, as well as the development of partnerships through the extension program; aquaculture needs the same thing.
ODP: What does the public need state and federal governments to do to protect ocean and human health in the face of growing aquaculture?
AJW: The public needs clear and up-to-date communication and active engagement from all government offices on the opportunities and benefits of greatly expanded, environmentally sustainable aquaculture. This includes measures to ensure transparency and traceability to know where fish are coming from; clear authorities and resources to monitor impacts; means to hold industry accountable and revoke permits if needed; as well as stable funding to support ocean and human health research, including incentives or subsidies to help industry offset the cost of scientific and technological advancement.
ODP: What is the area of greatest potential growth for finfish aquaculture right now?
There is great potential in federal (and some state) waters for what is known as “offshore aquaculture,” where deep water and constant flow allow the fish to grow quickly. There is also significant potential for growth of land-based recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS), which are essentially aquariums where the water is continuously cleaned and reused to ensure fish health. Both types are necessary to meet the growing demand for profitable industries.
ODP: Where should research dollars be going?
AJW: Science and technology are critical for ensuring the sustainability of aquaculture environmentally, socially, and economically. Some areas for research investment are drug and vaccination research (to keep fish and humans healthy), development of better and cheaper means to monitor environmental impacts, reproductive study and discovery to determine what fish are best for meeting demand with economic feasibility in mind, technological improvements (to feed fish, monitor environment, purify RAS water, etc.), and let’s not forget education and social science initiatives to help consumers understand and embrace the numerous benefits of sustainable aquaculture.
ODP: Would greater government investment in research and science on sustainable finfish aquaculture speed its development and ensure food security going forward?
AJW: Yes, federal and state investments in research are essential to advance sustainable aquaculture that is economically viable while also attracting the capital investment needed for rapid industry growth. Fish must be healthy and affordable on national and global scales, and I believe subsidies and government-led partnerships are essential to the necessary growth of the U.S. aquaculture industry, as well as to our international leadership in healthy and prosperous aquaculture that sustains the ocean and our posterity.
Thank you, Admiral White, for helping us to understand this complex issue. The key to expanding aquaculture lies in making sure that it is done in a way that can ensure food security and ocean health.
To Go Deeper: The Consortium will be working with stakeholders on aquaculture in the coming months. See this website for additional information.