Dr. Randy Macmillan is the President of the National Aquaculture Association.


What's the main challenge in the aquaculture industry?

Probably the biggest challenge is to try to get the whole global community of scientists and fish farmers and wild capture fisheries, people working in a concerted effort -coordinated effort perhaps-to try to insure that we have enough seafood proteins available for a continually growing human population. And you can go back down and prioritize things from that to identify challenges. I think one of the challenges for aquaculture in particular is to try to figure out how to promote aquaculture as a sustainable-a legitimate and sustainable industry. I think it's important to figure out how to insure that sustainability-and countries have different degrees of sustainability. They have been able to develop their aquaculture programs in a different way at variable rates of development.

Some of them have already gone through some of the growing pains, that some of the newer countries involved in aquaculture development are just now starting to go through. And so my feeling is that if we can bring those forces together, you have a much better chance of insuring that sustainability, the constant supply of high quality protein to people who need that protein and for people who want to select that type of protein that they want to eat. And then finally, the third challenge I think is to try to-is to develop the natural programs to insure the sustainability. Those are the primary challenge I see. And you can get even more specific. I don't know where you want to go with this.

How do you define sustainability?

Well sustainability is somewhat of a moving target, actually, because the world's always changing. The environment, the population density is changing. We live in a world where there are 6 billion people. And from what I'm told, maybe 80 to 90 million people added to the global population every year. Well that changes what sustainability is going to be. If you look at right now in many, many nations, certainly the United States, most of aquaculture is sustainable. As we add more people, more demands being placed on natural resources, that end point is going to change. I think you have probably heard of the tragedy of the commons. We always have to be concerned about the cumulative impact of any of our activities. Whether it's aquaculture or road crop agriculture or too many cars-whatever it is-we're continually adding to that environmental burden and so it's really hard to define sustainability. The best I think we can do is anticipate a bit of what's going to happen in the future, but really look at right now. And then recognize that we may have to change our practices, as changes occur in the environment that you're operating in or in the global sense as well.

What about world fisheries and the role that aquaculture can play?

Well, we know that world fisheries are-much of world fisheries are fully exploited and maybe over exploited and because of that challenge and the need to provide seafood to people because they like it-it's a good source of good quality protein. Aquaculture really has the opportunity to indeed provide some of that seafood. You have to balance things of course and that's always the challenge. Because that depletion of the fishery resources, the naturally resources out there, if mankind-if humankind-can figure out to domesticate some of those fish and do it in an environmentally sensitive way, then you really do have a positive impact on the world's fisheries and you can help things out. It's always really quite a challenge, of course, to do that. You have to have the management systems, in place, the knowledge of what's going on in the oceans and what's going out-on in the aquaculture arena to be able to balance those things. That's still the expectation of aquaculture and I think some things that are very real can really happen and has happened in many countries.

What are the challenges in creating sustainable practice in developing countries?

Well, I think once people are informed or educated they-about ecosystems and how what we do could impact other life other types of life-aquatic life, terrestrial animals-whatever it is- there's really a desire to be a good environmental steward. They really want to be an environmental steward. So it's just a matter of teaching them how to be an environmental steward. And as long as things work out financially for them, they can do that.
That's always the challenge with any type of agricultural activity. You have to be profitable at least in a capitalistic society. You have to be profitable to continue your operation. And if you're profitable, then you can afford to be a better environmental steward that's if you were otherwise required to do.

So in developing countries, what I would call the low income food deficit countries, I think they'll have the same-and I'm sure they already do, many already do-have the sense of what it means to be an environmental steward, but they have to do, what their other fish farmers or shrimp farmers have to do in order to be a good steward. So, it's just a matter of educating them, of transferring the technologies, the management schemes to those farmers and they will do a good job. I have pretty high confidence that we can get through some of these challenges in lesser-developed countries to really have sustainable aquaculture programs.

What are the two biggest hurdles?

Well, I think that's going to vary from country to country and what part of the country you're in. In the United States, we've been able to develop a pretty good education program for all fish farmers on how best to use drugs and chemicals and what's the importance of quality assurance programs. And at the same time we've done that, we've been able to educate the policy makers about aquaculture.
And that's always been a real challenge in the United States.

Aquaculture is a pretty new industry, and it's got many different sectors to it. In the United States, there's catfish and trout, and a little bit of salmon, a little bit of shrimp, certainly shellfish with oysters. We all have different challenges and different ways of growing the animals, but unfortunately the policy makers in Washington DC and the states have had a challenge, they haven't really known about aquaculture. So I think one of the things that we've done is better educate them, about what aquaculture is all about and about the really positive things that aquaculture can bring to the table, so to speak.

What about the challenge of health management in industrial fish farming?

Historically, in the United States anyway, there have been very few tools available for fish health management. Whenever you bring fish together, or aquaculture animals, or any other animals together into a confined space, whether it's organic farming or not, industrial size farms, you're going to have problems with diseases-that's just a natural thing, and in the United States the FDA very tightly regulates domestic aquaculture as well as animal agriculture.

But in particular aquaculture, we have very few drugs. We only have two antibiotics available that are approved and available for use in the United States, and they are for very few aquaculture animals, catfish. And then one antibiotic is available for lobster and that's it. We'll we raise 35 or more different kinds of food animals, aquaculture food animals in the United States and then a whole host of non-food aquaculture animals. None of those have approved drugs. So what we've been working on for a number of years is-we still have a ways to go-we're looking at alternative aquaculture animal health management techniques. And one of the things that's really provided helpful is vaccine development. And we know in Norway, for example, they've been able to decrease their use of antibiotics by 98%, and it's all because of alternate health management tools or different health management tools such as the vaccines.

We're making some fairly significant strides in all of domestic aquaculture and food fish aquaculture with those vaccines and with some other methods of immuno-stimulants that would be non-specific methods to improve the defensive mechanisms of those fish. We're also looking at selective breeding, using traditional breeding programs, with selecting fish and oysters that are more disease resistant. And so that's a really good success story. We're looking for even brighter things from that program. So that's one that I particularly have in mind.

Can you tell us about another success story?

Well, one does come to mind and that is improvements in waste management. I know of several aquaculture industry sectors that have been under the gun from state environmental agencies and certainly from the environmental community to do a better job, and through concerted research efforts and technology transfer, many industries-industry sectors-have done a far better job than they used to do.
Salmon net pen industry is one. And that's a small industry in the United States but they've, over the years, and that's been around since the 1970's I think, discovered that it's probably a good idea to move their net pens around to allow natural rejuvenation of the areas they've been farming in to get back to historic conditions.

The catfish industry has figured out better ways to manage their water resources and better ways to even manage their solid waste. Catfish are grown in a confined pond, so there's not very much discharge of pollutant. When the do discharge, they've figured out better ways to do things. The trout industry as well has better ways to manage their solid waste-to capture those wastes before they are discharged. In the United States, phosphorous as a nutrient-is a growing concern. What we've found through research, through feed research in particular and monitor the environment, is that you can reduce the phosphorous in the feed and as long as it's cost effective you can reduce the phosphorous in your effluent. The challenge there is to make sure the feed industry is making the ingredients that are low in phosphorous. And unfortunately, those ingredients tend to be a bit more expensive and when you look on the broader scheme, the global scheme, domestic producers are competing against foreign producers. And if those foreign producers don't have the same environmental constraints, the same costs, then we suffer as a consequence.

What are the challenges of fish farmers?

One of the challenges for many fish farmers whether they're, whether you look domestically or globally, is to try to match production with demand. Right now, as we speak, there is an excess of seafood on the markets. Whether it's wild capture or farm raised. And so prices to the farmers-the farm based prices-are really suffering, and fish farms are going out of business as a consequence and that 's really a problem if you're looking food security for a nation. I think even Ecuador-Ecuador has a lot of shrimp farmers. Well, they're competing with Chinese shrimp farmers, or Thai shrimp farmers. Many of those Ecuadorian shrimp farmers are going out of business because they can't compete with the lower cost products from China-that's not necessarily a difference in quality-maybe it is, maybe it's not. I'm not in a position to judge that.

But we know that they're raised under different conditions, different environmental constraints. And they can't, even in Ecuador, which is not a highly developed, economically developed country, their labor costs there, they still can't compete with other countries, Asian countries typically, with their aquaculture products.
So, in the United States, we are challenged with the over supply of seafood. That's good for the consumer, but for sustainability in the aquaculture community, that's not good at all. In the wild fish capture community; they also have a challenge that way aquaculture is coming online. They're out there capturing the wild fish, it may be salmon, it may be other kinds of fish but their costs are more than what the fish farmers costs are.
Somehow or another we need to work through this, and maybe economics will just may be the final arbiter of what happens there. But, we somehow fish farmers; the fish farming community domestically and internationally need to better balance demand with supply. Fish farming is a very expensive proposition-it takes a lot of investment. And if you can't recoup those costs, that investment-obviously you're not going to stay in business and so that's a problem for many people.

The United States seafood trade deficit is 7 to 8 billion dollars and more and more of that, is because of imported aquaculture products-typically salmon and shrimp and Tilapia. Their Tilapia industry is just phenomenal internationally. The Asian countries are growing millions and millions of pounds of Tilapia. It's being exported to the United States and it's good quality product. Although very inexpensively produced. And so, it's a great thing for United States consumers, if they like Tilapia, but the domestic Tilapia producers can be challenged because of that. In seafood, there's demand for fresh product and for frozen product. Typically, what happens is that United States domestic producers can provide the fresh product and the international competitors provide the frozen, but even that's changing these days.

So there's opportunity for domestic producers but we have to recognize that it's a global economy these days-and international competitors-the importing industry is very anxious to bring in those lower cost, may equivalent quality product into the United States. It's great for consumers, but not so good for the domestic producers, so what domestic producers have to do is figure out more cost efficient ways of growing their product. And that's good, as long as they don't comprise on some of the more sustainable-sustainability issues that everyone needs to be concerned about.

So you think that the lower prices of globalization works against sustainable practices?

Environmentalism has a cost for an industry, for a company, for a farmer. It costs them. Unless you can-unless the same time you can maximize your costs-not maximize your costs BUT minimize your costs and or-rather your environmental net-your method of production is environmentally sound-if that decreases your costs at the same time, that's a really, really good thing. Now with road crop agriculture, better management of water-water's becoming a premium in some parts of the world and in the United States too. Like in Idaho, water is really a premium. It's something almost as valuable as oil.

And what farmers there are finding out -if they can better manage their distribution of water on their road crop, they get better growth of that crop. Depends on the crop, but they get better growth. More bushels of wheat per acre, just by better management, better conservation practices, better environmental practices. And they are also finding if they can better apply their nutrients, their fertilizers, optimize the fertilization, it decreases their costs, and increases their yield. If we can do that same sort of thing in aquaculture, whatever the operation is, that's a really, really good thing. So you can institute some environmental practices that cost a little, but in fact it increases your production, improves your profitability-so that's a really good thing.

What significant challenges does United States aquaculture industry face implementing environmental standards when international competitors do not need to meet the same standards?

There is a significant challenge figuring out how to compete in a global economy and still satisfy environmental requirements; environmental stewardship expectations. It really requires a good bit of innovation and frequently on how to tie that environmental stewardship into your management scheme. And make it cost effective.
Those who are going to be successful are the ones going to be the innovators. They are going to apply technologies that are out there and put that into their system and make it work

Can you address the difference between the Blue and Green revolutions and how they apply to aquaculture?

Well the blue revolution has been going on for 20 -30 years, and it's going to continue, because there is such a demand for seafood as a source of protein. Whether it's for developed countries for people who want choice of the foods they eat, or for the low-income food deficient countries, just to provide basic needs. So the blue revolution is going to keep going. I think the good thing is that with the green revolution, we've learned that there are costs, there are environmental consequences to that kind of revolution. And since we have learned those things, we can apply that knowledge, that wisdom to the blue revolution, and hopefully do a better job with this go around, the revolution of food production and do things that are far more sustainable and really meet more of the needs of our world society.

Where is aquaculture now in terms of reaching it productive potential?

Well I think the issue of sustainability varies from country to country and in the United States we are probably in a pretty sustainable, the most domesticated really, domesticated aquatic animal species that we've raised. We're probably really close to being sustainable. For other countries, it's probably not the case. There's still a good bit of education and effort that needs to be put forward to make it sustainable. Every country has a different set of natural resources. And those resources are changing to. Even in the United States, we're coming up with some barriers just with the availability of water. And I know that's a challenge in other countries-just the availability of suitable water for growing these aquatic animals. And depending on the type of aquatic animal you grow, water quality requirements are going to be different.

So, as to where we are, we still have a ways to go for global sustainability of aquaculture. On a country-by-country basis, we might be there and we have to be careful about whose expectations we're trying to meet. People 20, 30, 40 years ago thought we'd be farming the seas. We'd be living at the bottom of the ocean. I remember National Geographic articles to that effect. And we're not there yet, we haven't figured out how to do that yet. So, we have to make sure that those expectations really were realistic expectations. And that requires a good bit of education of the environmental community, of policy makers, of what we really need is some good technical information provided to those folks in a way that they can understand them. It's not so technical that it's so esoteric that you can't reach them.

Do you see aquaculture producing a greater percent of total fish being produced?

There will be continued expansion in the use of seafood. Seafood is a marvelously healthy food and as we find out more and more about marine fish for example and the presence of omega 3 fatty acids. The experts tell us, the medical experts, that that's a very valuable ingredient for having healthy hearts. So, as people become more concerned about their own health, there probably will be more increase consumption of seafood. And that's a good thing.

What do you think the percentage of aquaculture-produced fish will be in the next 20 years?

The way aquaculture and the blue revolution is going, we would expect aquaculture to constitute maybe 50%, certainly 40 to 50% of all the seafood consumed in the world in the next 20 years.

How important is it to the aquaculture industry to grow fish lower on the food chain?

The question is whether or not the use of-the growing of-carnivorous species is unsustainable with all of its broad issues that some people are concerned about. I think you also have to look at in the first world, in the developed countries what consumers will buy. And one thing we know in the seafood industry, consumers like choice. So there is always going to be demand for carnivorous species of fish. There is demand for herbivorous species of fish. And that's what makes fish farming and the wild capture of seafood profitable. There is that demand. I think we can expect to increase demand for a variety of seafood, and certainly herbivorous animals would play a part in that. But how you change the consumer's preference is a real, real challenge. We know again, they like choice. There are many people who are willing to experiment with new things.

We see other cultures, their way of cooking foods coming into play in the United States and people like that. They like Asian cooking, they like the whole broad range of different kinds of styles of cooking. And that's really good, that encourages people to try different kinds of aquatic animals and so there will be opportunity for those herbivorous animals. Whether you can see a ground swell of change from Tuna to Carp for example, that's a long difficult road. And the danger there is that a farmer might grow Carp or another kind of herbivorous animal but there's no market. There's no place to sell his product. He's out of business. And in our society, that doesn't work. So it is a major challenge to get United States consumers to change the types of animals and plants that they eat.

Tilapia now outsells Tuna, so change in consumer fish choices is possible.

One thing that does drive consumer choice is price. Tilapia is a very low cost-relatively speaking-a low cost fish. It's a good quality product as long as it's been processed correctly and grown in good clean environments; it's a good quality product. And that's good. In other herbivorous fish, the concern would be there grown probably cheaper, less expensively than the carnivorous species. You are still going to have consumers that want that choice so there's still going to be opportunity for the producers of the carnivorous species. Just as well as there will be opportunity for herbivorous fish. The challenge for some of those herbivorous fish maybe harder to overcome just by price that for other herbivorous fish. In the United States, Tilapia was…doesn't have quite the baggage that Carp currently carries with it. In Europe and Asia, Carp doesn't have that baggage.

There is the example of Carp in China, effectively feeding all those people.

In the United States, that wouldn't work. It doesn't work to put animal excrement in the ponds or human excrement in the ponds to fertilize the water to grow the plants for the fish to eat. That's unacceptable practice. There are also concerns, with that kind, of practice of antibiotic resistance, human pathogens developing and so there is concern about that way of growing the fish. Historically, that's the way it's been done. It's a very efficient system for them and to our knowledge; anyway, it's not been a health problem for them. But just the mind set is difficult for United States consumers anyway to-if they know about that.

What other techniques have been looked at?

Hydroponics is something that's been looked at. Polyculture's been looked at in the United States and in some systems that works quite well. I know in California, they looked at polyculture and hydroponics really on growing asparagus and lettuce, and the effluent of warm water aquaculture facilities. And to some extent that works. It takes much, much more management to do that so that's the challenge there. And if you put more management in, your costs are going to go up. So you have to balance that increased production with your increased costs. And whether or not the consumer will go for that.

Could you talk more about carnivorous fish and whether they are sustainable?

Well I think the issue with the capture of wild fish to make fish meal to feed carnivorous aquatic animals is whether or not wild fisheries are sustainable. And if it's properly managed, then it probably is sustainable. At some point you will reach a barrier, where the utilization, the demand for those the fishmeal will be so great that the price will go up. And becomes a barrier then for aquaculture or for any other animal industry to utilize that particular natural resource. And so at that point, you have to make sure that the management and regulatory system is in place so there's not over harvest. Over exploitation of those pelagic fish-the anchovies, whatever it is or trash fish, and if there is over exploitation, then you do end up with some environmental ecological problems that could have some very devastating impacts.

Could you address some of the other big issues?

The issue of non indigenous species, exotic animals being raised, in water of the US whether it's ocean waters or fresh waters it's certainly an issue requiring an awful lot of thought, how to deal with that- requires good decisions-wise decisions about which types of animals to raise. There is some legitimate concern about growing Atlantic salmon in the Pacific Ocean. The legitimacy comes from; we don't know what the impact's going to be. We know from other non-indigenous aquatic animals that if they are introduced into the waterways, they can cause real ecological catastrophes and really deplete natural wild fisheries out there. So there is enough evidence out there from history to tell us that we need to be concerned about that. We need to look at those issues very carefully.

I think to date, there's not any real evidence that it is a problem. And that's always, the challenge to make sure that the critics of aquaculture, those that are concerned about those kinds of issues, really are informed enough, really have the data to support their position. One of the challenges of aquaculture actually is to make sure that we provide the necessary data for the regulatory scientist; the regulatory people provide good sound credible data to the policy makers. And that's one of the good challenges, big challenges for everyone is to have good sound credible data to use in making those decisions about how to best use a natural resource.

When it comes to fish pathogens, there have been rare examples, rare instances where the introduction of an exotic pathogen into an aquatic animal population can cause some harm. But it's a rare one. And it, I think that if we, if we recognize, if we develop the tools that we need to make judgments, and if we have a good inspection program in place, where we test for specific pathogens, we can prevent the introduction of exotic pathogens into a particular aquatic environment and it's a win-win for everyone. But it takes the application of technology; it takes the application of good management systems, and certainly the appropriate application of regulatory programs, to make that work.

What about the IHN virus in Salmon?

Well, when it comes to fish pathogens, you have to have a really pretty good understanding of how that whole biology works. It's a prudent thing to be concerned about fish pathogens, about the introduction of exotic species into an ecosystem. There's always some risk in doing that, and requires an effort-in the United States anyway-to develop a program to prevent the introduction of nuisance aquatic species, which would include pathogens. The United States Department of Agriculture Health Inspection Services program, to try to prevent the introduction of exotic pathogens-aquatic animal pathogens and if in spite of that effort exotic pathogens can enter into terrestrial ecosystems and certainly aquatic animal ecosystems.

And so, there is some risk in that happening. Does that mean that we stop? Stop growing the animals-whether it's chickens or fish? I don't know. That's a difficult question. The amplification that can occur on a fish farm of pathogens, such as IHN virus, I think the jury's still out about whether or not that would have an impact on wild fish. We know from very extensive studies of animal pathogen relationships that pathogen amplification alone is not sufficient to cause disease. We know with IHN virus, it's out in the wild. There's a North American strain of a virus. It's been out in the wild in herring and in Pacific Cod for a long time. We only discovered that was there when we picked up some in our routine screening of salmon populations in hatcheries.

We picked up that virus in those fish. It's not supposed to be in North America. It was a European virus. Well that virus is a different strain of the virus that occurs in Europe. And that strain of virus though occurs in waters of the Pacific in fish out there-again the herring and Pacific Cod and maybe some other species. It's not causing any detectable injury to those populations of fish. So, it's certainly out there. As long as those wild populations are otherwise healthy, as long as they are no confined, as you do on a fish farm, where the fish are stressed, changes are going to be fine. Is there a 100% guarantee? No. There's not. There's no 100% guarantee that we'll live to be 90 years old even if we eat organic foods. There's no guarantee.

Critics would say that the aquaculture is not responding enough to the issue of pathogens, because of the bottom line.

Sure, and it's a perfectly legitimate reasonable question about what the salmon fish farmers are doing what any other type of animal farmer is doing. I don't think the fish farmers want this to happen. And they are certainly looking for tools to use to try to prevent it from happening. There is a keen interest in IHN virus vaccines up there. With salmon, the good thing about salmon, they're on an individual fish basis, they are very expensive.
So that salmon farmer can afford to individually vaccinate those fish. And so that's a really good thing. Whether or not that's a common practice out there, I don't know. And I don't know how effective the IHN vaccines that are out there are or the ISA virus vaccines. I know there's an interest in that and ISA vaccine.

We're still growing and learning about the interaction between wild fish and farmed fish. And the interplay between farmed fish and wild fish with their pathogens, with effluence. We're still learning about those things and so it is prudent, probably, wise to be cautious about that. We just know historically there's been no evidence of having a pathogen out in the wild that's the same pathogen in the farmed fish and what impact that farmed fish had on that wild population. If you bring in an exotic pathogen, such as a parasite in Norway that's an exotic pathogen brought in with brown trout, the farmed brown trout can affect wild fish. Because wild fish had never seen gyrodactylus, so from a fish pathologist standpoint, the issue is not whether or not there are bio implications. The issue is whether or not it's an exotic pathogen. And in British Columbia, we are not dealing with an exotic pathogen. I think the prevailing fish pathologist wisdom is that it should not be an issue.

Many question whether aquaculture can have any real impact on feeding the world-rather than just providing a cheap product to the United States, Europe and Japan?

The type of food, the type of seafood, which includes fresh water and marine water seafood, the type that you try to deliver, is going to be important for whomever you're feeding. That's not very well said right there. But the issue is, from my perspective anyways, is we have to have appropriate expectations for the type of food that we're growing. We don't expect third world countries to feed their populations off of beef. We don't. And we don't try to provide beef to those countries. I don't think what we want to do is make sure for those low-income food deficit countries is that the type of aquatic animals they grow is going to feed the masses.

Because that's where the most critical need is. How do we feed maybe a billion people a high quality nutritious protein animal protein? For herbivorous animals, herbivorous aquatic animals, is a really good way to do it. If you have the natural resource water available, and that's what we focus on for those countries. For other countries that are have a higher standard of living, they have the luxury, if you will, of looking at other sources of protein such as shrimp and salmon and lots of other kinds of seafood carnivorous or otherwise that are grown out there, that are higher cost. So we just have to have an appropriate expectation, the right expectation for that particular type of aquaculture. Aquaculture is very diverse there are probably 300. I saw a UN estimate of 375 or so different kinds of aquatic animals and plants being grown throughout the world under aquaculture conditions.

What about aquaculture in developing nations-like shrimp farming in Thailand actually depleting a countries' natural resources because of lack of regulation?

I think that it's really important for any country to have the infrastructure in place to manage their natural resources. It doesn't matter if it's timber, or water, or air whatever it is, they need that infrastructure in place that's scientifically based or technologically based, in other words using good sound evidence to manage that resource. They need that in place if they are going to have a sustainable production system and a healthy environment. In some of those countries, that's not currently in place. And so various groups are out there trying to help those countries, help themselves. I know the UN has some programs that way. World Fisheries Center has a program where they're trying to provide the technology, the expertise to educate those policy makers there, the decision makers in those countries.

So they insure or try to insure the type of aquaculture they develop is indeed sustainable. If they are capturing trash fish by catch in their country's waters, that they don't deplete that resource and have to go to a different way to grow the shrimp perhaps more expensive and something that they wouldn't be able to compete in. We're still moving on in those directions, we're still educating those countries. They're anxious to bring in dollars, capital into their country. And so they embark on some of these programs, without realizing all of the ramifications or the most significant ramifications and so we see that with shrimp aquaculture actually. It started off a lot of excitement, they went in and destroyed some mangrove swamps, although I understand the destruction of mangrove swamps was not-maybe 10% or so-was due to shrimp framing, but they went in never the less and did that. Not knowing that those mangrove swamps were really not a very good place to even grow the shrimp. They did that anyway. They just didn't have the knowledge base there to do that wisely.

What about certification systems?

Well, the question about certification is like the certification for organic labels or country or origin labeling. There is a consumer right to know issue there. But there's also a problem with the cost of those programs. If you label a product as being certified environmentally sound coming from a sustainable industry, then third party audits are expensive. Even a country of origin labeling is going to require third party audit and that just increases your costs of food production, providing that food to consumers. Consumers do have a right to know if they want, how a product was grown, where it came from-that's certainly important for that. So consumers have a right to know where the product's grown whether or not it's organically grown or not. Some consumers choose to eat only organic foods; others do not. It's not an issue for them. If it's required by law to do something, then that impacts all consumers because their price of food goes up. Is that something that we want in our society-whoever's society, it is. Is that something that they want? That's a question that's probably a big debate I imagine in many governments throughout the world.

How about genetically modified fish?

Genetically modified fish certainly are a very interesting scientific thing. They have a potential to be a very positive thing in aquaculture. We need to learn a bit more about GMO generically modified organisms before we want to embark on them or endorse them. We think there's potential and it could be very, very beneficial for American consumers or world consumers. We do need to know more about the potential impact on the environment, on the ecosystems out there. In some cases those genetically modified organisms are no better than historically traditionally selected animals are. I know with the trout industry for example that the GMO trout that nobody's using them, and commercially have not been approved for use in the US but those fish are no better than the trout that have been selected for over time-have been domesticated over time.

Certainly better performers than the wild trout. If you capture wild trout and put them into an aquaculture situation, take a GMO trout put it into an aquaculture situation; the GMO fish is going to do better. But if you take a domesticated trout that has been in fish farms for the past 100 years, or it's mothers and fathers have been in fish farms that long, and do a growth performance trial, there's no difference.

So, you really have to make sure that that genetically modified organism is something a farmer wants, but also what the consumer wants. And then it's safe for the environment. We don't know that we're there yet. We think there's more that needs to be learned about those and certainly the American consumer is not ready for genetically modified fish, and I don't know of any domestic producer that's voiced an interest, or shown any interest in that kind of animal.

But I will tell you one thing we are concerned about, genetically modified organisms, other countries out there, that don't have the regulatory programs in place, the infrastructure in place to make sound decisions, those GMO animals may get out there and in third world countries, and in some cases they do grow better-not the trout-but maybe, maybe salmon, and those fish will start competing with all the other farm raised salmon that are out there. And that will be a real challenge then. For consumers it will kind of poison the aura out there about the nutritional value, the quality of salmon out there. And that's a concern. And Elliot is a forceful articulate speaker too. He's done this so much, argued his case so much that if you don't know too much, he can make a very convincing argument.

What do you think about deep ocean aquaculture?

Well, the deeper sea cages really do offer some opportunity there. As long as they don't become too congregated because they are going to be dependent on the natural flow of water and all to take care of the waste. They could be sustainable environmentally. The big question for those sea cages is deeper ocean farming is the cost. It's going to be far more expensive than on shore or just off shore aquaculture for them to grow their fish, and get them to market. So, there's some potential there, the verdict is still out. I know there's a Pacific Thread Fin farm off the coast of Hawaii currently doing that.

And I've not seen their financial analysis there to know if that's going to be successful or not. It sure makes for a pretty picture, though. They have this conical shaped cage with all these fish in it. And you can see feed being delivered from a ship up on top the water. And makes for a real-if you're a fish farmer-it's a real impressive thing. Whether it's sustainable financially or economically profitable, financially profitable remains to be seen there. I think probably for niche markets of fish, like in Hawaii. I don't know if anybody outside Hawaiians, maybe there are, but outside the Hawaiians that eat Pacific Thread Fin. I don't know. But it's not something on the mainland USA that's consumed. So for a niche market that might work. But the verdict is still out on that one too.

Are there also environmental issues with deep-sea aquaculture?

Certainly, any type of thing you do, you need to think very carefully about what are the environmental consequences-that's always an issue. And there we don't know, whether to institute precautionary principals, that's highly debated thing in many circles in the US anyway and certainly in the European Union. I think anytime you are farming an animal in the wild you have to be very concerned about the pathogens that are already out there. You have no control over what fish get brought to your sea cage, for example. You have no control over that and so you could have a crop of fish, of Pacific Thread Fin, that are almost ready for harvest and this pathogen from the wild comes in and wipes them out. You've lost all those fish, all that money, so it's a much riskier proposition that way.

It's the same thing with salmon net pen farming. You are exposing your fish to waters you can't control what's in it, pathogen or otherwise. And that's much more risky than fresh water aquaculture, catfish ponds, trout aquaculture where you're, like in Idaho where you're using pristine water aqua fur, water that doesn't have any fish in it to feed your farm. You loose those controls that you've got in other types of aquaculture so it's a riskier venture. I think you did a segment on Blue Fin Tuna. Same thing for those guys and they have some other issues their too capturing fish from the wild to fatten up. I think that's basically their thing. And that's how they use to do it historically, even with Carp culture 2 to 3,000 years ago that's what they'd do is bring the Carp in, capture them in the wild and bring them into a pond and fatten them up.

They are doing that to the Blue Fin Tuna and other types of marine fish. But there, you're bringing in these animals, you have no knowledge about their history, no information at all about what pathogens they've got. You bring them together, stressing them, they are going to break with diseases, and you have no way to treat. No way to control. So, it's a far riskier proposition. They may not even know what they've got. Well I would just challenge everyone if they were critics of aquaculture, and we need critics, we need people to challenge us challenge whatever activity. I would challenge the critics to think back 100, 2 or 3 hundred years ago, or maybe even thousands of years ago when agriculture was just getting started. How did they get started? What did they go through to ultimately end up with the Green Revolution-that supplies a tremendous amount of food to a growing population? What would it be like for wheat farmers to try to get started now? How would they do that?

What would they be challenged with?

They'd be challenged with the same questions that aquaculture is being challenged with. And so, we're going to go through growing pains. We do need the critics. We need the critics to be well informed and to respect, also respect the information that aquaculture is putting forward, and that policy makers have to have then. We all need to provide good data to the policy makers, and to the consumers about what we're doing and what's the wisest path to the end. Which is really to figure out ways to provide consumers with choice, consumers with high quality proteins and to feed a burgeoning growing world population.