SUPERSEAS Looks At Area-based Management of Southeast Asia Aquaculture

[An edited version of this story first appeared on SciDev.Net, 18 July 2016]

According to FAO, aquaculture volume has been expanding at an average of almost 9% every year since 1980. In 2013, aquaculture contributes 43% of world total fish production with most farmers running small-scale fish farms. But various socio-economic and environmental risks that extend beyond the farm can threaten the sustainability of small-scale fish farms.

A new research project will study how small-scale fish farms can reduce shared risks and improve market access through cooperation and adoption of area-based management.

The project, called “Supermarket supported area-based management and certification of aquaculture in Southeast Asia” (SUPERSEAS), will be carried out over four years (2016-2020) in Bangladesh, Thailand and Vietnam.

A consortium of universities and agencies concerned with food production leads the project. Wageningen University and Research heads the research while other partners like WorldFish and FAO facilitate and advise operation in the respective countries. The Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research funds the project.

The liquid nature of aquaculture where pollution and diseases spread in the water makes risk management untenable at the farm-level, says Simon Bush, Professor and Chair of the Environmental Policy Group at Wageningen University and Research. Bush also leads SUPERSEAS.

“Our previous research on shrimp production (in Southeast Asia) found that various factors like deforestation, salinity, and water temperature affect disease incidence,” says Bush. “But these are not factors you can manage at the farm level. A farmer has little control because these risks go beyond the farm.”

Sustainability could never be achieved by using the farmer as an individual unit of management, says Bush. “You have to look beyond the farm in order to create truly sustainable production systems.”

Switching from farm-based to area-based management should help manage risks in aquaculture, but “we haven’t got the proof of concept,” says Bush. “We don’t have an ideal model (for Southeast Asia) yet.”

Striving to understand how area-based management might work for Southeast Asia aquaculture, SUPERSEAS starts by examining the different forms of existing cooperation among fish farmers. The project will also study how area-based approaches can help fish farmers manage risk via financial mechanisms.

Although small-scale fish farms could access higher value retail markets through certification, the required financial costs and efforts prohibits farm-based certification. Addressing this, SUPERSEAS will also examine the use of area-based approaches to help small-scale fish farms obtain certifications.

“An aggregated approach will tackle some of the environmental challenges as well as level the playing field for poorer farmers,” says Chadag Vishnumurthy Mohan, senior scientist from WorldFish. Furthermore, small-scale fish farmers working together could better negotiate trade and financing deals.

SUPERSEAS “could lead to the development of area-based certification being developed on a commercial basis and ultimately improved trade between Asia and the rest of the world,” says Mohan.


Scientists Call for Fisheries to Focus on Nutrition

[An edited version of this story first appeared on SciDev.Net, 30 May 2016]

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that fish consumption per person globally has more than doubled over the past five decades.

But some scientists say we should now focus more on the nutritional quality of fisheries. Fisheries management that are nutrition-sensitive would measure and improve nutritional outcomes instead of only production and trade values, reports the recent paper in the journal Food Policy.

By adopting a nutrition-sensitive approach, the authors of the paper argue that fisheries present many untapped opportunities to meet the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations to provide accessible and nutritious foods for all. Fisheries refer to harvesting of aquatic animals from wild populations and aquaculture.

Shakuntala Haraksingh Thilsted, lead author of the study, says that past policies targeted hunger and have successfully increased food production.

“But now in areas where people have more than enough staple food, they remain malnourished,” says Thilsted who is a senior nutrition advisor with the international research organization, WorldFish.

“We want to develop food production systems, in this case fisheries, that improve nutrition and health of the populations.”

The authors suggest three target areas for fisheries to work towards nutrition-sensitive: Improve quality and quantity of fish supply, empower women, and promote equitable markets.

Fisheries need to better diversify their products to provide greater diversity of foods, and hence nutrition. Capture fisheries must conserve ecosystems for sustainable and diverse harvest from the wild.

On the other hand, aquaculture—a fast growing sector expected to meet 63% of global fish demand by 2030—produces mainly large species which Thilsted and her colleagues had reported to be less nutritious than the small fish from capture fisheries.

“If we only focus on tilapia,” says Thilsted “then we limit what people can cook and eat, and the nutritional benefits they can get from diverse fish species.” Tilapia fish is a major aquaculture commodity; China and Southeast Asia are the largest producers.

The study suggests that aquaculture produce a mix of nutritious small fish species and large species for the market to optimize resource use and product diversity.

Weimin Miao, aquaculture officer at the FAO Regional Office in Bangkok, agrees that more needs to be done to boost the contribution of fisheries to the health and nutrition of the people.

However, Miao cautions against overemphasizing nutritional outcomes as specific goals for fisheries development when current production lags behind demand.

Exaggerating the difference of some “micronutrients between different fish,” says Miao “might lead us to overlook the overall importance of fish as an important source of healthier animal food.”

“We should prioritize developing sustainable, efficient aquaculture products that are more affordable, especially for the locals,” says Miao. He thinks it is more pertinent to increase supply of affordable fish, particularly for local low-income groups, instead of setting nutritional outcomes as goals “which are rather difficult to quantify and measure.”

Authorities keen to adopt a nutrient-sensitive approach to managing fisheries on the national level can start by comparing available data of fisheries production and consumption. Thilsted says that doing so across segments of the populations could show the role fisheries play in contributing to nutritional needs, especially of the poor.

“If one evaluates other aspects of development, such as nutrition and health of children,” says Thilsted “then one could see that in the long term, these [production-focused] policies in fisheries are not optimal for national development.”


Elusive Omura’s Whale Found!

[This story first appeared on BBC Earth on 30 October 2015]


With bodies as long as school buses, you would think that Omura’s whales could never go unnoticed. Yet they are among the most mysterious of whales.

The species was only given its name, based on dead specimens, in 2003. Since then scientists have failed to find live ones.

Now the wait is over. Whale researchers have discovered a population of Omura’s whales living near Madagascar. Their study, published in Royal Society Open Science, offers the first glimpse of how these elusive whales live.