George Lockwood is a consultant in the aquaculture industry and has been involved in aquaculture since the mid 1970's. He has commercially grown salmon, oysters, abalone, and marine algae. He is also a former President of the World Aquaculture Society.


What do you see as the main steps that need to be taken within the aquaculture industry to make it sustainable?

First of all, the aquaculture as a modern large-quantity producing industry came about only in the last 15-20 years. And as a result, we have gone through a revolution of a number of interesting phases, and each one presents its own series of problems that need to be dealt with.

The first thing we all faced back in the '60s, '70s, and '80s with many of the species being grown today, was first understanding the biology of these animals. And that basically was done in universities and government laboratories and entrepreneurs and private laboratories. Once we got the biologies worked out - what these animals ate, how they reproduce - we had to develop systems to grow them in, which had never been done before.

So then, all of a sudden, you get systems that are producing large quantities of very nice fish and shellfish, and you realize you had to sell them. And most of the people who had done the biologies and engineering of these systems really weren't marketing people. And while a seafood distribution system was already in place here in the United States and elsewhere, the aquaculture had to fit the marketing of fish and shellfish into this system.

So marketing became a frontier later in the evolution. Then all of a sudden, we saw shrimp and salmon and catfish grow to be very significant parts of the seafood that's eaten in the United States.

And as a result of the explosion of these industries, there have been very major concerns about environmental and social aspects of these expansions. And now those parts of the industry that have expanded so greatly in recent years are going through a phase of consolidation. I expect in the next few years, most of our salmon will come from 4 or 5 producers worldwide. Most of our shrimp will probably be imported and distributed by only a handful of companies, although there probably will remain hundreds of thousands of producers around the world.

So we've gone through this five-step evolution and as a result every step has had problems that had to be solved. In the early stages these weren't necessarily public policy problems, but when we got into some of the major production operations, environmental concerns have become very important.

So what are the main steps, in terms of the environmental problems you're up against now, do you think need to be taken in the industry?

The criticisms that have occurred about aquaculture have largely come out of either salmon or shrimp operations. There are probably 500,000 producers of shrimp around the world. Most of the shrimp, which we eat in the United States and most of the shrimp that's eaten in the world, comes from about twenty countries, Thailand being the biggest producer, Ecuador being another big producer. China, Indonesia. Those more or less tropical countries where there's low-cost labor and where there is land available.

One of the major criticisms that's been levied against shrimp has been the destruction of some mangroves that early in the evolution of large-scale operations some people went into mangrove areas (and apparently still do) and destroyed the mangroves and converted them into in shrimp ponds. In the last 200 years, half the mangrove forests in the in the world have been destroyed.

So, there's a lot of concern about preserving the remaining ones. Mangroves in coastal areas, in the tropics, perform a very important ecological function. They support swamp systems. They exist where a whole range of marine species live. They protect the coast from erosion and they also, because of their support of fisheries, provide sustenance for some of the poorest people in the world. They simply go to these mangrove swamps and fish for whatever is there for them so they are a very, very ecologically important and socially important part of our world society.

Well, destroying them has caused some problems and there's a lot of concern that we shouldn't be destroying them anymore. What has happened is that they turn out to be not very good places to grow shrimp. So it is a sort of self-limiting kind of a thing.

There are other major causes of mangrove destruction. And one of the more insidious ones is urban sprawl in developing economies. In poorer economies, people are moving from the rural areas into urban areas. Well, these major cities, like Bangkok, have to grow. So in the process, they encroach upon the mangrove areas.

But what is interesting to me is that shrimp farming in these developing countries is a rural enterprise. You need areas of land for ponds, so by providing an economic base for people to continue living in rural areas, you keep them from moving into the urban areas where the real mangrove destruction is occurring.

So, I guess in terms of mangroves, there probably are fewer and fewer that are being destroyed because it's just not technically a good thing to do. Shrimp don't dwell in the acid soil ponds that the mangrove swamps produce. And secondly, it's taking pressure off urbanization, which is probably the biggest single cause of environmental pollution in developing countries. So that's one concern — mangroves.

Another concern is that these operations, like growing of any animals, produce pollutants. There are metabolic waste products of growing any animal. And if these pollutants are not discharged in a certain way, they can cause ecological damage in the local environment. This is one of the criticisms of growing salmon in pens. And this is certainly one of the criticisms of the discharges coming from salmon ponds, particularly if they go into the mangrove farm systems, because they can overload the ability of the swamp to handle the new organic load. But there are ways of dealing with that that are being addressed, so that you don't have overloaded systems.

Diseases. Disease is a major problem and it is a problem with growing anything. And if you remember back in history when the colonial empires were developing, the worst enemy for the people they were conquering weren't necessarily the weapons of the soldiers. It was the diseases they brought. Well, as we get into more sophisticated growing of animals like shrimp, there are diseases that pop up that get transported all over the world very quickly. And to me the introduction of diseases is probably the biggest concern that all of aquaculture faces.

So that is a criticisms that that we have, not only for shrimp but for salmon and other species. The trafficking in diseases around the world can be very disruptive. I think one of the worst effects that we've seen in some of these very poor countries is that by disrupting and dislocating people for the construction of ponds for growing — again, let's say shrimp — these people have nowhere else to go. And the governments don't have the resources or the desire to see that these displaced people can somehow or another survive.

And again, while aquaculture is basically a rural industry and it's important to keep people in rural areas from invading these huge urban sprawling areas, there have been some dislocation of people who are really just hanging on. They're uneducated people. They have nothing else to do. To me, that is one of my greatest concerns.

But again, that is to a large extent a local government's problem. It's hard for us in the United States to say that people in Thailand or Ecuador should do a better job of educating their people, because that's really what it amounts to — getting the people equipped to be more valuable elsewhere in their societies. And dislocation is not unique to aquaculture.

In China, with the Three Gorges Damns that are going to be built, they are going to dislocate millions of people, but at least they have an organized way of accommodating them. But when you have a small farmer who goes and builds a shrimp pond and he destroys a mangrove swamp to support a family, it's a bit different case. So those are some of the major criticisms we have seen emerge as aquaculture itself has emerged to be a major producer of fish and shellfish.

You talked about changing the placement of ponds from mangroves to other locations. It seems like with so many different producers in so many different countries, it would be more expensive to locate ponds further from mangroves. Is that a change that's happening everywhere, or is it happening only where the people can afford to build ponds elsewhere?

First of all, the technical infrastructure to support the shrimp farming industry is improving greatly. There are people in these countries that can advise the farmers how to do best what they're doing - to do a better job economically, to reduce disease, to design their ponds so they don't cause salt water infiltration, and so forth. And it just doesn't make sense when you know about shrimp to grow them in mangrove soils. It's just something that was tried in the early days and it didn't work. And it's probably being done in those cases where it's being done by people who don't have good technical resources to understand that it's bound to fail.

So we're seeing, not only a greater infrastructure of technical support in these various countries, but the industry itself has gotten together and formed an association - the Global Aquaculture Alliance, which is in the process of developing best practices for growing shrimp, and for helping the people who are going to be growing them to understand how to go about it so they do the least environmental and social damage. And inform people who are in the distribution part of shrimp that there are good practices and there are not good practices.

Probably coming out of this will be a code and a seal of our best sustainable practices. That's all happened in the past year and it's very positive. And not only will those marginal operations not succeed economically, but we will see a greater sharing of what is good practice, and to some degree, a market place enforcement of that.

What do you see as the largest obstacles within the industry to achieving change?

In the case of the shrimp industry there's an estimated 500 thousand shrimp farms in the world. How do you coordinate 500 thousand people in 50 different countries? Most of the shrimp probably comes from 15 or 20 countries. There's no way you can do that. You can just develop the best technologies and disseminate them the best you can; educate everybody along the chain of distribution as to what is good practice and what is not.

And you can also work with the governments. In the case of mangroves you're dealing with a coastal resource, so governments of the developed world are trying to impress upon the developing nations that they need to protect their coastal resources. But many of these countries don't have the financial ability to do that.

And you have different kinds of governments and different kinds of government problems. And frankly you've got corruption in some places. And if somebody wants to get around government regulations, in many places there are ways of doing it. So there will always be these kinds of problems.

But I see great progress being made towards the development of best practices, towards the dissemination of technical information. The aquaculture scientific community has really turned, too, I think, to help people understand the environmental consequences of what they're doing and why it doesn't make good sense to do that.

In your article you mentioned that there's a lot of pressure from NGO's and environmental groups. Some drastic measures are being discussed on how to affect change in the industry from the outside. Do you think that there is a way for these groups to come together and agree on some sort of code?

Well, what has happened is that this issue in the last 4 or 5 years has exploded. It was kind of a sleepy issue until 1993,1994. The World Aquaculture Society had our annual meeting in Bangkok, Thailand and the issues of the environmental problems caused by aquaculture were raised. I don't think there was much attention paid to the subject until then.

Well, then at our next meeting in 1997 in Seattle, a number of environmental organizations around the world the world were present and became very vocal that we really needed to attend to these problems. But the meeting had all the classic symptoms of being a showdown. You had a very rigid position and very strong accusations being made by some of the environmental groups and you had industry producers out there doing their best being sensitive to the criticism.

A lot of the scientific community came away very depressed. I mean here are people, like myself, working very hard to make aquaculture a reality and all of a sudden it's painted out to be a rogue industry doing all sorts of bad things in the world. And that's not what any of us wanted. And one guy from the scientific community, who would be essential in the long run to solve any of our problems, said, "Why even try, if this is how we're going to be treated." We had this classic confrontation, similar to the kind of labor confrontations we had back in the 30's and 40's.

So this is why I propose that we get representatives from various groups and get locked up somewhere away from the television cameras and really hammer out what the important tissues are and what aren't.

But then a very interesting thing happened, which could only happen with modern technology. One of our key professors down at Mississippi State, John Hargraves put together a server list on the Internet. And invited anyone who was interested in the subject to sign up. And I don't know how many hundreds of people were there, but there were a lot. Somebody would post a statement and within 24 hours you would have reactions from Africa, Latin America, Scotland, Thailand, Japan. And we got a real dialogue going between the growers, the environmental critics, the scientific community — between people in the distinct parts of the business. And over a period of a few months, all of the issues got identified. How really important is this? How many mangroves are cut down for shrimp?

Well, if all of the shrimp forests in the world were put in mangrove forests, only 5% of the mangroves in the world would have been touched. Obviously not all shrimp farms are in mangroves. It's a minor part of the mangrove problem. And so we began to quantify this. In the meantime, the Global Aquaculture Alliance emerged and said, we, as an industry group, are going to work to do the following things to develop these best practices. And there began to become a sense of respect for each other; a sense of 'okay, let's work more or less together.'

And I have absolute confidence that, being what human being are there'll always be differences and there should be, but we have developed mechanisms for sharing our concerns, building some degree of trust and solving problems.

Where will the standards come from? Do you think they'll come from the industry? Or will there be some kind of 3rd party that comes in and creates these standards for the code?

The industry and the scientific community are coming up with this code of best practices. And I'm sure it will not be satisfactory to some people, and we'll just have to work through all that, but to have this code is a major step forward.

And if you cut back the demand for shrimp in the United States, and therefore less shrimp gets grown in the world, it's the poor people in those rural areas in Thailand and Ecuador and Indonesia that are going to be hurt the most. And the United Nations and the World Bank have clearly shown that the reduction of poverty in these Asian countries is a miracle. The number of people that have been taken out of poverty in the last 20 years by the economic development that's occurred is very, very large. It's just unbelievable.

So we're all tied to that. And I think we can have some pride to know that the standard of living of these rural people in these countries have been greatly improved by the fact that the technology of growing shrimp has developed and the markets in the United States and markets and Europe and Japan have developed to consume them.

And in terms of Thailand, Thailand was, and is, traditionally the largest exporter of rice in the world. It is their major export. Shrimp has become almost as important. See, it's all tied together. And what you see with the foreign exchange rates are things like hospitals, roads, telecommunication systems, school rooms, classroom equipment. All these things are being imported into these rural areas that 5 or 10 years ago weren't there. So the balance of benefits is driven largely to those people in rural areas that are able now to benefit from the growing of shrimp.

You mentioned a turning point for the industry. Did you have any idea that any of these problems were developing before it came to the attention of the industry?

I think it was a sleeper. Certainly there were people that were aware of it. And organizations like the Environmental Defense Fund, World Wildlife Federation and others, were tuned in to what was happening and helped bring it to the attention of the world community. But it's only been three years now since this issue grabbed the attention that it has and grabbed the talented people to help start begin the process of solving it.

It's also driving the next evolution of technology. If we look at American industrial environmental concerns, the first thing that the industry has tried to do is capture their waste and then handle them in some sort of environmentally costly way. The next thing you try to do is cut back on your waste. And then you look at your waste and see if they don't have some value. You've got 'em, you might as well use them.

Take the petroleum industry in the last 30 years, where there were oil fields that didn't have high-energy gas that would flare all these things that were of no value, just burning in the atmosphere. Well, nowadays these 'down stream products' are a very valuable part of the value stream of the petroleum industry. So we're seeing a lot of emphasis now on aquaculture technologies where the metabolites of one species become the nutrient resources of another species. And that's the frontier. That's the future of aquaculture.

To combat disease problems within the farms, people are using a lot of antibiotics. There is concern about the potential of creating antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Do you share this concern?

It very much is an issue. It's an issue in any area of animal husbandry. The amount of antibiotics being used in fish farms around the world is substantially less than in other forms of agriculture. That doesn't mean we don't have to do a better job of controlling diseases. Diseases turn out to be ubiquitous. They are all over the place and we traffic them all over the world. In the case of shrimp, we import large quantities of uncooked shrimp in the United States. Well, viruses will be carried in that meat.

The best mode, which I think aquaculture to a large extent is trying to follow, is what happened in the poultry industry.

Back 30 or 40 years ago when there were perhaps millions of poultry farmers in the United States, every farm had chickens running around. All of the vectors that had diseases were all over the place. There were birds and rats and mice and other animals that were disease carriers that would interact with the chickens.

Nowadays, you go to an operation like Purdue, or Tyson, or Foster Farms, there's no way you can get in. What they have done is isolate their flocks from all of the vectors that would bring diseases in.

So the first line of defense is not antibiotics. Its not vaccinations. It's that you isolate your flocks from the disease vectors that will carry the organisms that are harmful. Well, aquaculture has to go through that. Then, even with the isolation of these flocks, there is the issue of vaccinations. The salmon industry in the last 5 years has very effectively developed vaccinations for the kind of diseases that affect them.

In shrimp there is a great effort now to develop disease-resistant strains of shrimp. If you've got a pond that's filled with shrimp and a disease or a virus gets in there and kills them all, you've just created billions and billions of virus cells that are going to contaminate the environment. So if you can cut down the possibility of a disease organism getting in there in the first place, then you've dramatically cut down the spread of diseases, from farmer to farmer even.

What is being done in the industry to combat the additional stress placed on fisheries caused by biomass fishing for creating the fishmeal?

Let's look at the whole field of the oceans' productivity of fish. Back in 1960, the world's oceans produced 40 million metric tons of fish. This steadily increased year by year until 1985, at which point and since then, we have leveled out at 100 million metric tons. There simply is no more capability in the ocean to produce more fish. Many of our fisheries, if they're not at a sustained, long-term level of production, they have begun to decline.

Cod, being the worst example, on the Georges Bank and all the New England fisheries and the Grand Banks have been shut down. And there's a real question whether cod will ever replenish itself in those areas because it was so dramatically overfished.

Here in the West Coast we've got a major problem with salmon that we may have a moratorium on salmon. The case of abalone, something that's very much a part of my experience in aquaculture, the fishery's closed, and is believed that one very important abalone species is extinct now — the white abalone.

So we are not going be able to look to the oceans to produce any more fish and the amount of resource maybe declining. Now out of that 100 million metric tons that's harvested every year, 60 million metric tons is eaten by people directly: 60%. 40 million metric tons goes into fishmeal and directly into animal feeds and so forth.

And there's a lot of concern about how best to use that fishmeal. Right now we have an El Nino situation and there's probably a very serious depression that's going to occur in the amount of fishmeal available. So aquaculture is now beginning to consume a substantial amount of the world's fishmeal and there have been concerns expressed about it. Out of that 40 million metric tons, about half of it goes into broilers — into poultry, 30% goes into pork, and now 17% goes into aquaculture, into growing other fish, and it's growing very, very rapidly.

Several things are happening on that front. A significant part of the scientific work being done in the United States, Norway and elsewhere is to develop diets based upon grains that fish will eat. That's a tough frontier because all these fish evolved to the other fish, or at least the fish that we are talking about evolved to the other fish.

But nevertheless there are great breakthroughs being made in the substitution of grains, which not only is it going to take the pressure off fishmeal, which aquaculture is beginning to put on it, but it is also going to mean substantially lower cost of fish. About 60, 70% of the cost of growing a fish is in the feed and most of that is in fishmeal. So that if we can substitute corn and soybean and canola and other grain products that hold great promise, we will substantially reduce the cost.

Now, some of the fish that are used for making fishmeal can be eaten by people--sardines, herring, anchovies. The economics are such that they're not eaten by people. People just don't like sardines or anchovies that well. And what happens there is the market system takes care of our hideous resource. If people really wanted anchovies and sardines, we bid the price up, so that they wouldn't go into fishmeal; we wouldn't be producing pigs and chickens with fishmeal.

So I don't want to say it's an artificial argument, but it's really not a valid argument to say that people are being deprived of fish protein because aquaculture is using it to feed other fish. The simple fact is the fish probably wouldn't be fish because there's no market for them.

Nevertheless if we're going to continue the growth of aquaculture, we've got to get away from fishmeal and get into these other forms of grain. And like I say, there's a great deal of intensity of research in that area to do that now.

There's a concern about the high bycatch rate resulting from the use of wild larvae in shrimp ponds, so is this an area that the industry is working to improve?

I think we've begun to see a major shift. The early days of shrimp aquaculture involved going out into the bays and open ocean and catching small shrimp larvae on nets, and that's where you got a lot of other things that got killed in the process. And as the shrimp industry grew in these areas where they did that, you were depleting the reproduction of not only these other species but of shrimp. This was the argument anyway. I think there are a number of scientists who feel that the impact is miniscule, but nevertheless is of concern.

We have seen the development of hatchery technology evolve rather rapidly and we're moving more and more towards that. And I think what we're going to see, in shrimp for instance, genetically the development of pathogen-free species of young post-larval shrimp, which can only come out of hatcheries. And again, this is part of the Code of Best Practices that the industry is developing to move towards not going into the environment.

Now you mention the bycatch situation. Let's go back to fishmeal for a second. In addition to the 100 million metric tons that we harvest now of total fish from the world's oceans, it's estimated that upwards of 30 million metric tons are fish that are thrown back, that are killed in the process of fishing. And that's a tremendous amount of potential fishmeal, or even edible fish. If somehow or another the economic laws could be changed so that we keep those fish.

So some people believe that the real fishmeal problem is as much a bycatch problem. If we could deal with the bycatch as well as cut down the demand for fishmeal, we'll be serving the world better.

So do you think that the changes that need to be implemented can pay for themselves in the long run, for example the survival rates in these ponds would go up so it would be economically feasible in the long run, or will that cost be passed on to the consumer?

Well, what's going to happen is that we are seeing the technology of shrimp, for instance, evolving towards greater survival in ponds. And typically what will happen is the pond will get some disease agent in it and the whole pond dies. So what this does is the farmer will harvest smaller shrimp, which are less valuable, rather than running the risk of putting another month's growth on them to get a higher price.

With the solving of the disease problem, with sighting of ponds so there is no cross contamination with the pathogen-free larvae, with all the kinds of things that are going on now to solve the disease problems, we're going to see a tremendous productivity. Not only will they grow bigger shrimp, but we'll have less ponds dying. So while Thailand expects to double their production in the next 5 years with more ponds, the existing ponds we already have in place are going to be very, very productive. And so we're going to see a tremendous increase in the availability of shrimp.

You mentioned the price for the consumer. The value chain in all of these aquaculture species is such that their real value is captured not by the farmer but along the distribution chain. And that seafood is priced eventually higher than other forms of protein right now and that's largely due to a distribution chain that was set up for wild-catch fish that aquaculture's plugging into.

But for those species that have large quantities of production, or the potential for large quantities of production-we have catfish, shrimp, salmon and oysters, and tilapia's growing very rapidly--I expect that with more and more production we're going to see the shrinking of margins along the value chain, so that at our supermarkets we're going to see seafood more competitively priced with other forms of meat protein. In our supermarkets skinless, boneless turkey breast might cost $4 a pound. Well, we're not too far off with salmon; we're not too far off with shrimp, if in fact distribution efficiencies can be improved.

How can smaller farms implement some of these changes? For example in Asia, where they recently went through an economic crisis, how can the small farmer afford to implement the changes the industry is calling for, or are they only for bigger, wealthier farms? Are there low-cost solutions?

Actually the costs of improving the disease problem is not a cost, it's a huge benefit. And by having a technical infrastructure in these countries that can help the farmers in the rural areas do a better job of sighting their ponds, and managing their ponds, sourcing their larvae, there would be a tremendous economic benefit; there's not a cost that would emerge from it.

It's just like my earlier parallel of the industrial ecological environmental revolution in the United States. Really what you find out is that being an environmental citizen is also being the lowest-cost producer, because you're using your waste, for instance, to be resources for other things. You begin to capture the value of stuff you just used to discharge into the environment. And the same thing is true in aquaculture. The next evolution is to grow several species. One of the metabolites of one becomes the nutrient resources for others.

But back to your original question: the costs of having a disease-controlled operation, even in rural areas, that's not a cost; that's a huge benefit, and that's what we're seeing.

How about the pollution aspect of aquaculture, the effluence?

One of the questions is where do you discharge your effluence? If you put them in a concentrated zone in a mangrove swamp, you're going to totally disrupt that environment. If on the other hand, there are other places where you can discharge and disperse these wastes, you don't have that immediate impact. By having better feeds. There's a lot of research going on, as I was saying, about substituting grains for fishmeal, but also getting much more flesh growth per pound of feed that you feed. In other words the feed conversion ratios are improved and you produce less waste.

And this is what's happened in salmon, for instance. In conventional agriculture, it takes about 25 pounds of feed to produce a pound of beef. In chickens it went from 3 to 2 pounds of feed to produce a pound of broilers. In salmon now, it's down to pound per pound. And that's happened in the last 5 or 6 years; it's gone from close to 2 pounds down to one pound because the science of nutrition has improved so much.

So that's the big thrust. And it's interesting that fish, because they're not warm-blooded animals, don't have to have as much feed to maintain their energy, to provide the energy that we warm-blooded animals have. So we're seeing a great improvement in feed conversions, so this cuts down on the amount of waste that would otherwise be discharged.

So there're two solutions to that problem — where you discharge the waste and how you can cut down by a more efficient feed and feeding regimes and less waste as you feed. And then of course the third one is, as I mentioned before, you start using these wastes not as waste but as resources for all the other things.

Where aquaculture has been most successful, a lot of the food goes for export. And you've talked about the displacement of peoples. Do you see any contradiction there that a great portion of food gets exported when the food is needed within its own communities and country?

Well, it's interesting. First of all, for the shrimp that's exported, there are dollars imported and x-ray machines for hospitals and computers for schools and road building machinery and so forth, which is very, very valuable in helping these impoverished people out of their poverty. You take a rapidly developing economy like China. A few years ago China was a major exporter of shrimp. Now they are an importer of shrimp. So they are beginning to consume more and more of their product because they can afford to.

Over half the fish grown in the world are grown in China. Carps are their biggest aquaculture item. And indeed it is providing valuable meat protein for its own people. So there are a number of species that are grown in developing countries that stay within those countries. There are a handful of species finding their way into export markets, developing export earnings that they need; that are of tremendous value to their development.

So there are really three kinds of aquaculture in terms of economics: export, the internally consumed, and the ones that go back and forth.

What is the situation in a country like Thailand? How much of their aquaculture products are for export and how much stays in the country?

I don't know. It's interesting what you see. Tilapia is a fish that's grown virtually in every country in the world now. It originally started in Africa and it adapts to farming very well and eats a wide variety of things. And China's a big producer of tilapia and we're beginning to eat a lot of it in the United States. They're really nice white-fleshed fish that's feeding into the deficit that the demise of cod has caused.

There are people that grow tilapia in ponds in their backyard to feed themselves, and they might sell some or barter some to the neighbors who have some other commodity. And you see that in other forms of agriculture in developing countries, for chickens or hogs or goats or whatever. They kind of just live off the land.

And in the case of tilapia, they'll eat chicken manure, they'll eat cow manure, they'll eat all sorts of things, the garbage that you throw in, whatever, and grow. And then of course you take that to the extreme now of local consumption. The next stage is it feeds into the cities and towns around and it becomes an internal economic commodity. And then you see it developing into an export commodity.

And so these things are all mixed. And of course, that's what a lot of us are in this business for. We really want to see another form of good, healthy fish and shellfish be part of the meat protein of a lot of people around the world, not just rich Americans. And to a large extent, I think we can take pride that that is in fact what has happened.

And as I indicated earlier, one out of four fish eaten in the world now is farm-grown, and in another five years it'll be one out of three. It's growing that fast. And it's just not coming into developed economies. Like I said, China is the biggest producer of aquaculture fish, and most of that, the carps, all stay within China.

So in terms of the jobs that have in created versus the people who have been dislocated by this industry, is there any sense of benefit within those communities? Are the local people working for the fish farms in their community?

Well, the criticism is that the people who are displaced are not hired on the farms that displaced them. I suspect that that's largely due to that the skills aren't there. And how you address that question is to educate universally, as many people as you can anyway, to a higher skill level. This is very much a local development problem. And obviously you want to eliminate and mitigate as much disruption as you can.

But nevertheless the real long-term answers for the Thai government, the Ecuadorian government, whatever, to make sure that there are good educational resources that are universally available to all their people, so that these inevitable disruptions that occur, the displacements that occur, the people don't have to go to the urban areas to try to find some work that's probably not there for them anywhere.

And the real upset to me, that I think most people don't realize, is that the pressures on urbanization on developing countries are enormous. A large percentage of people who live in rural areas are migrating so much that the urban areas are growing too rapidly, and enormous environmental problems are being caused by that, in addition to just continuing this poverty that they live in.

You travel into these urban areas and the slums, and it's just horrible to see the conditions under which these people live. And they've either been displaced physically or economically from the rural areas. Well, to be able to bring rural industries alive, such as shrimp, or in our case in the United States, the catfish in the South.

The catfish industry in the South developed in an area that was probably the most impoverished in the US, with the least hope of any sustainable economic jobs for a large number of our people. And you go down to Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas, and they have good jobs, they're getting good education, and these people don't have to migrate out of that area into northern urban areas, which happened in the 40s and 50s in the United States. So catfish in the United States has had a tremendous social benefit.

But the problem of displacement due to the creation of commercial ponds also sends people to the cities.

Well, in the US, the case of the catfish industry was, most of this area was growing rice, and by converting to catfish they were able to employ more people. Rice is all mechanized, or largely mechanized, and it was not a big employer of the poor people in the South, and it wasn't a particularly good income producer for the farmers, the people who owned the land. So we've seen catfish emerge to compete with rice for the land and it's now enormous economic factor in the South.

But what it's done is a lot of people are being employed. Not only are they growing the fish, but are processing them, taking the bones out, taking the skins off and making fillets or other products that get put into trucks that they drive to the North and throughout the US now.

In Third World countries, where a large portion of people are based in subsistence fishing, those people would be displaced to the cities, whereas all sorts of different class of people would be moving into rural areas to work on the farms?

I don't think that's necessarily true. In aquaculture, the growing of fish, the requirements for the labor to grow fish doesn't require a high degree of skill, but there are basic requirements. You need to know how to read and add and subtract and some of the basic things we learn early on in our education system. In some areas of the world people don't even have those skills.

So that wherever those basic educational factors are available, those are the people that are going to move into the lower level jobs in aquaculture. But yes, the displacement of subsistence-level people, if they don't have some degree of education, they're not going to be employable, in anything. And that's where the real rub comes.

I don't know how big of a problem it is. Certainly there are some horrible examples. But it's nowhere near the millions of people that will be displace by the Three-Gorges Dam in China, for instance. And by getting away from building ponds in mangroves, that problem to a large extent is mitigated.

What do you think are the best locations for aquaculture ponds?

Well, I don't know if there is a definition for a best location. There are a lot of factors that come to play and it'll be interesting to see over the next ten years how the shrimp industry shakes out, that in the long run it's the most efficient producers and shippers and distributors that will be selling their product. This is the way the economic system works. And you got entirely different structures of how this is being done.

You take Ecuador, for instance, where there is a major consolidation going on, so that you have, in essence, industrial farmers. Where they will have larger ponds, they'll have their own feed mills, they'll have their own processing operations, they'll have their own hatcheries producing disease-free post-larval shrimp for stocking the ponds, and they will integrate forward into the distribution system. That's one model.

Another model is like Thailand, where perhaps you have 50,000 small family farmers, some bigger than others. And they have advantages of lower cost of labor because their children and they do all the work themselves. And they have a highly developed infrastructure there.

So in the long run, which system and what locations will we get most of our shrimp? But there will emerge a number, perhaps a handful of countries, where things like the economics of land, if you're going to have ponds on land, what else could you grow on that? And very few are in mangrove areas, so basically in Thailand, as I understand it, it's either rice or shrimp. Well, what are the economics of world rice compared to what the economics will be of shrimp? Where can the farmer make the most money?

So we're going to see a lot of factors. Then you get into the whole distribution. Once the farmer grows his shrimp, he's got to transport it to a processor, or somebody has to transport it to a processor. They cut off the heads usually, and they take off the shell in many cases, then they freeze it — that all gets done in a processing facility. It gets put on another set of trucks, goes off to an export center, and by the time it gets to your dinner plate, whether it be in a restaurant or through a supermarket chain, there have been importers and exporters and distributors and people all along that value chain.

Well, what we're seeing in many industries is the values chain shrinking, so there are efficiencies that occur. So all these things are going to come to play. The cost of feed — the biggest cost to any of these aquaculture crops is feed — and there may be some feeding advantages in certain places that we don't have in others. So that'll all happen, probably in 10 years we'll see a dramatically different industry than we see now producing a lot more than what we have now.

Is there any plans by the industry, as one of the transitions that you are making, to stock the ponds less densely?

Well, people who grow shrimp have different stocking densities that they operate at, depending upon local conditions, their own experiences, disease factors and other things. That's just one of many variables that drives economics. Obviously the more shrimp or any species you can grow in a given volume of water, where you got the fixed cost of having built that pond or whatever, the more revenue you get out of it, the better your return. So people are always anxious to either grow more or grow 'em to a larger weight.

But that varies from growing area to growing area, species of shrimp to species of shrimp, so I think what we're going to see once the disease problems are behind us, then we're going to see greater stocking and growing shrimp, or whatever the fish is, to a larger weight, where they have more value.

What do you think local governments should be doing to make sure that the industry doesn't displace too many local communities and to help protect local environments?

Well, clearly the minimizing of environmental impacts, whether it be in the immediate coastal zone or even inshore, is something that the community of people, what we call local government, should be concerned about. And we Americans like to see that a democratic process, that local people would have some voice as to how their environment's going to be impacted. So certainly there's a role of government to do that.

I see a big role of government, as was here in the United States historically, to educate their people. So that when those economic factors that come along that tend to displace people happen, such as a shift of agriculture, that they will have viable options. Here in the United States two generations ago, we had massive migrations off the farms to urban areas, but those people were equipped to go to the urban areas to get jobs; they had job skills. So local government, and even national government I think, has a big role there.

Coastal zone protection: I think shrimp has been unfairly implicated for a lot more mangrove destruction than it really has done historically; it's been implicated much worse than it really has. That's a conclusion I've come to after watching this debate. Nevertheless, there are unique resources that exist in the coastal zones and they need to be recognized and the people that are most affected by them need to have some voice in how that coastal zone is going to be used.

In India right now there's a big debate going on where the coastal zone has been used for principally shrimp, and there have been destruction of not mangroves necessarily, but other ecological environmental factors, and it's a significant debate.

Now, that all being said, I'm also very sensitive to the fact that the people in developing countries don't want to listen to Americans telling them how to run their economies and how to run their governments. And we're seeing this in such things as carbon dioxide and global warming issue.

It's very apparent there that developing countries are saying to the developed countries: you already had the benefit of polluting the atmosphere and haven't had to suffer the costs. Now we're developing; don't impost that cost on us, thank you; we'll do it our own way.

And to a very large extent, I'm all against corruption; I'm all against the crony-capitalism that we see in some of these countries, but there's only so much you can do about it. We need to recognize that. And sure, we don't want to participate in any of those corrupt practices ourselves, but there's no way we're going to stamp 'em out either.

So it's easy for us to criticize and try to impose our standards on other people. Sometimes they work and sometimes they're not accepted.

With so many farms in developing nations, how do we find out if a farm is environmentally safe or not?

Well, we're just beginning to see the first sort of standards being worked on now. The aquaculture industry, the shrimp industry particularly, is beginning to come up with some standards of best practices. How do you certify them, how do you implement them, is the next round of questions, for which there will be no universal agreement on, I'm sure.

Well, the first question is of what standards? We have to agree on the standards, first of all, and then there'll be a very rigid certification standard. I don't know how that'll work, but in time it may be able to work. There are certain environmental organizations, like the World Wildlife Fund, that's trying to work in England towards certified seafood, and we've seen efforts in the United States for certified lumber, timber operations. And in some cases I guess they're working well and in other cases there are a lot of problems.

And how is it going to work: let's say we've got a million shrimp producers in the world. How do you certify a million people? I don't know, maybe you certify countries; maybe you certify processing operations and make sure that they certify their growers somehow. That round has yet to be gone over.

My biggest concern is that aquaculture has been really held back in United States by just enormous amounts of government regulations. When I was operating our abalone company here in Monterey I had 63 agencies of government to deal with. I spent 50% of my time just administering to the affairs of bureaucrats. And mostly with laws and regulations intended to stamp out some evil that I had nothing to do with. Regulation is costly. And when you have a new industry that's trying to emerge, it really is imposing.

Now, certification is a form of regulation. And how much it will cost, and how much it will stymie creativity, and how much it will trammel development, I don't know. But that's what concerns me, that we not impose world shrimp, world salmon, catfish, tilapia, whatever, the whole set of regulations that are maybe marginal at best and are going to be very costly; that's a concern.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't try to have effective certification but I hope we keep in mind that it can be very costly in many respects, not just in adding a few pennies per pound on the shrimp that we buy.

In certain areas where ponds had been abandoned, what can be done to restore these areas?

Well, back to mangroves: much to my surprise I'm told, unlike redwoods—you're never going to restore these stands of redwood trees that are thousands of years old—mangrove systems can be restored very conveniently and easily. You can plant young mangrove trees and within a few years you've got a nice forest. And there are efforts going on—and this may be part of the Code of Practices, I don't know—where in fact the people go back and restore mangroves where ponds where built and then abandoned because they were not economical.

Now, we have in the international world, a Global Environment Facility, which is supposed to protect biodiversity as well as deal with the greenhouse gas problem and with the Freon problem, and it seems quite logical to me that if in fact we've learned we want to restore a lot of destroyed mangroves, that a very important part of the global facility's missions could be to help pay and put together programs in developing countries to see that the mangrove systems that are increased rather than decreased.

The justification of the Global Environment Facility getting involved in mangrove restoration is that there are migratory species and that there are wildlife species that are in the wild environment that are dependent on mangroves. So that I could see if in fact we want to expand or restore a lot of our mangroves, that programs of a global nature coming from the United Nations and World Bank through the Global Environment Facility could be very, very important.

Anything else you want to address?

I think it's important to look at what happens to fishmeal. As I indicated earlier, about 50% goes to growing chickens and another 30% goes into growing hogs, for pork. But in both of those cases there are substitutes that play into the economics. If fishmeal prices go up, they will use more soybeans, or more corn, or more whatever, so that everyday almost, they formulate their feeds for these two animals based upon the economics of that day. You can't do that yet with aquaculture. So if in fact aquaculture drives up the cost of fishmeal, we're going to see less being allocated to broilers and to pork, and then be made available.

Where the real rub comes in is how can you more directly convert these fish into, rather than fishmeal, into human production? And it's not only people don't like to eat the anchovies and sardine directly, there have yet to be ways of making fish protein so they could find their ways into inland diets in Africa and so forth. People have tried to do it, but the economics aren't there.

So what we're dealing with here is truly an economic tradeoff situation, that that resource will be allocated where it's most valuable. And if in fact we can come up with ways of directly feeding anchovies and sardines and herring and other fish into human diets, great. It will then either compete against pork and chickens or if we want to subsidize it, we can do that. So until that happens, as long as the fishery is properly managed and we don't over-exploit it, aquaculture is a very good use of fishmeal and fish oils.

Now all that being said, there are fish species people never eat. In the United States and the Gulf of Mexico and off the Atlantic coast, we have a very important fish called menhaden. It's bony, it's small, it's oily. People just don't eat it; they never really have. But it's a great source of fishmeal and fish oil. And in fact, its fish oil is high in omega-3 fatty acids, and it's just been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for making margarine in the United States. It's used in Europe now, for making margarine.

So, people who say that we're taking fishmeal and we should be feeding it to people, here is a species, which is a principal fishmeal producer in the United States that people will never eat, unless we can come up with some manufactured form of that fish, such as margarine.

So how we use that fishmeal is driven by economics more than anything else. My argument with the environmental people, who are concerned about using too much fishmeal, is that let's let the economic system allocate the resource that's there, but we need to really monitor the resource to make sure we don't have another cod experience, or we'll over-exploit it.

You mentioned that there's also a lot of bycatch in making fishmeal?

Well it's not so much in fishmeal, as in all the other things we eat. The book, The Perfect Storm, was a story of long-line swordfish fishery off of New England and Canada. Well, they catch enormous quantities of other fish they just throw overboard in order to catch one swordfish. I think that's true in many of our fisheries—you go after one type of fish and you throw overboard the rest because it has no economic value. And perhaps if we could find some use for these so-called bycatch fish, make fishmeal out of them for instance, we would take a lot of the pressure off of the fish that produce fishmeal.

In terms of how we're dealing with these criticisms, first of all, the aquaculture industry and the aquaculture scientific community are beginning and working hard at solutions to those criticisms that are of significant importance. Diseases, for instance; the mangrove problem, to the extent that it still exists, which has probably been self-mitigating because they just don't' make good ponds; the whole area of nutrition — we're driving more and more towards more efficient nutrition, which means less organic discharges; the technical infrastructure that is in place in the areas growing in those countries that are large shrimp producers, as well as in the salmon and catfish areas; our helping farmers sight and construct their ponds better, so there are less impacts because of their discharges.

As I've indicated, there's a whole disease area that's going through a lot of attention to mitigate disease, dealing with them if and when they come up. So that there is ongoing progress and I've been surprised at how remarkably fast that the world's been attending to these problems.

Do you want to say anything about the economic importance of the shrimp fisheries in a global sense?

Shrimp has grown in the United States to the point where something like 40% of the shrimp we eat is farm-grown. And what is happened also throughout aquaculture is that you have the ability to produce a high quality of product, that is, from the time it's harvested, well, during the growing operations through the harvesting and processing, can be completely controlled. The temperature control is very important in producing a uniform, high quality fish that the consumer eventually gets.

So that aquaculture products are very often accepted as having higher reliable qualities to them. The availability from aquaculture and many of these species is 12 months a year now, whereas before we were tied to seasonal availability. This has greatly transformed marketing in seafood. And one of the reasons you see in retail outlets now a seafood counter that's attended, is that seafood's available. I mean, look at many of those 15 or so species that you have there, a large number of them, including several types of shrimp, are all farm-grown. And by having consistent availability they can afford, retail outlets can have attended seafood counters.

And the economic effect is I think that we're going to see a handful of aquaculture species in the next 20 years become as low-cost, affordable, as we see chicken, pork and beef. And where Americans eat 190 pounds per capita per year of total meat protein, of which only 15 is seafood, I won't be surprised if we see a tenfold increase in what we're eating now in the areas of shrimp, salmon, whitefish—such as catfish and tilapia—to capture perhaps 30 or 40 pounds of that 190-pound meat protein market. That's the future we have.

And in addition to having a large volume of very affordable fish, we will see the growing of a wide range of lesser consumed but very valuable fish, like the flounders—soles, flounder, halibut—which we will have as specialty items. Whether we'll ever see crabs and lobsters and animals like that, I don't know. We won't see swordfish or shark, I don't think, for a long time to come.

But there are a number of candidate species that hold great promise that will continue to be high-priced, occasional items. And we will have mass distribution, mass consumption group of fish that I'm sure are going to include salmon and shrimp, several whitefish, and probably oysters and clams.