TRANSCRIPT - Dr. Meryl Williams
Williams is the Director General of The World Fish Center.
Headquarters is in Panang, Malaysia.
Has aquaculture relieved or added pressure to the oceanic fisheries?
There is a very
strong connection between aquaculture and ocean fisheries. The connection
comes though several streams, through the markets, and the price
of fish is affected by what’s happening in both sectors, but
also very much through the environment and feeds. Feeds in certain
types of aquaculture are one of the strongest links, so using fishmeal
from captured fisheries or even trashed fish — sometimes it’s
not reduced to fishmeal. To feed aquaculture species such as shrimps,
groupers, and sea bass is a very important and growing factor in
world fish production. When you’re feeding fish to make fish,
you actually end up with less fish. It makes economic sense but
it doesn’t increase the amount of fish available in the world.
So I think we need to re-look very carefully at the linkages between
aquaculture and fisheries, because some of the original assumptions
are not at all true.
We’ve studied salmon. It was trash fish, right out
of the gulf of Thailand.
I know, that’s
true all over Asia; the trawlers bring in the non-human food fish
not even through the markets, it goes often directly to the fish
farms to the coastal cages. I’ve been in parts of Asia, where
I’ve seen the transfer happening. Now we have a small boat
ourselves in Panang, and you see the transfer happening directly.
So there’s a definite use of local fish from local seas for
What percentage of fishmeal contains trash fish like that
of countries in Thailand, Vietnam or anywhere?
Nobody has those
figures. I would think, although that would be a very interesting
study to do, because I think some of the assumptions about where
the fishmeal comes from is, again, the assumptions are wrong that
it all comes from Peru or whatever. But certainly a lot of it does
come from local areas. Market forces would be the determining factor.
What prices are they able to buy the food from locally, what can
people afford is what determines price. Formulated fish feeds are
usually much better because they embody a lot of knowledge. They’re
usually cleaner, more concentrated, and more balanced in nutrient
composition. If you take direct trash fish you don’t really,
as a farmer, know what the balance of nutrients are that you’re
feeding to your fish. It’s certainly an area that hasn’t
really received the attention that it deserves. But that’s
changing very quickly.
A large percentage of fishmeal going to fish farms in Thailand
is coming from where?
From local supplies.
That’s an interesting observation; it’s one that I would
believe. I’m not aware of any studies that look at that percentage.
It would be very worthwhile knowing. I have a general belief that
one of the really important things to do for aquaculture for the
future, particularly at the national level, is to do much more thorough
planning and analysis. There are huge events happening in a very
ad hoc way: everything from changes in where the feeds come from
to the conversion of natural environments to farming, et cetera.
Many of the countries all around the world, not just in Southeast
Asia, have great projections for what they’d like to get out
of production in the long term from aquaculture.
But in my view,
they haven’t put enough thought into how they’re going
to get there. They know what they need, and they’ve started
to look at what they need for the future to replace more fishing
ports for instance, or to make more money out of fish exports. But,
they haven’t thought what species they should be growing,
where the markets are, what areas and resources they have to farm
those fish, how much water, where the land is, and what type of
land. In fact, there is blindness in a lot of parts of the world
in aquaculture and these issues need to be addressed overall.
There just needs
to be a much more strategic planning framework for this very fast
developing, but loosely developing, industry. It is the fastest
growing food production system in the world, aquaculture. It’s
been averaging nearly 10% a year for the last 10 to 15 years. No
other form of food production comes near it. Livestock considers
itself a fast grower, 2 to 3% production per year. But aquaculture
is much faster than that. It’s not really getting the attention
or national agenda from the fisheries department, because it’s
not just a fisheries department issue. The finance ministry should
be looking at it.
The land, the water, and the general agricultural ministries, et
cetera, but it’s caught everybody a bit by surprise.
This 10% growth, that’s a worldwide figure?
Yes and it’s
not even by any means. China dominates and we know the Chinese figures
are not totally sure as they now stand. But that aside, we do know
China produces an enormous amount of fish and that amount has grown
enormously in the last two to three decades. India is the second
biggest fish producer in the world now, and that’s a great
surprise. Aquaculture is absolutely booming in India. Just in the
last decade it’s gone from producing only one-third to now
about 40% of fish production in India. It’s definitely going
ahead faster. Of course the Southeast Asian countries of Thailand
and Vietnam are a very burgeoning aquaculture producer. Vietnam
now exports over a billion dollars of fish, of seafood, per year.
Three times the amount of rice and second in foreign exports only
to petroleum products. For those sorts of reasons, it should be
on the national agenda, not just on the fisheries department agendas.
To what does this 10% growth contribute? Export crops or
real food security?
mixture. There’s no doubt that where the opportunity exists
there are incentives, either at the national level or with the private
individual, to get into the higher value export crops. There have
been quite deep shocks in some countries when a market is cutoff.
In many countries, there is a large growth in the food security
end of production. We’ve been working in several of those
countries and we’ve had very big involvement with the world
fish center in Bangladesh in aquacultural development.