Aquaculture’s five-C challenge

While the aquaculture industry has made huge efforts in recent times to produce healthy proteins in a more sustainable way, the journey is far from over, with many obstacles remaining in its path, delegates heard at AquaVision 2022.

Returning to the global aquaculture business conference’s stage (following his appearance at the virtual AquaVision 2020), Nutreco’s Procurement Director – Macro Ingredients, Robert van den Breemer, explained that while aquaculture has benefitted from the general public’s shift away from meat as consumers seek out products that are healthier for them and the planet, it also needs to face the fact that vegetarian and vegan diets offer even greener alternatives to farmed seafood.

With the consistent missing of climate targets and governments starting to take stronger action in this regard, aquaculture now needs to act and switch its competitive focus to the plant-based food categories in order to stay in the driving seat, said Van den Breemer.

“Salmon has a much better carbon footprint then beef; tilapia is better than pork; and depending on the farming system, shrimp is better than chicken. But how does that compare to peas or nuts? What’s our real competition and what then, is our course of action to directly respond to that competition?”

Delivering sustainable feed ingredients and thereby sustainable aqua protein faces five major challenges.
Robert van den Breemer, Procurement Director Macro Ingredients, Nutreco

The five C's

Van den Breemer told AquaVision delegates that in his opinion, delivering sustainable feed ingredients and thereby sustainable aqua protein faces five major challenges.

First is the Challenge of Commonality, he said, pointing to climate change issues as a prime example of where few will gain, and most will suffer.

Next is Challenge of Choice and how to balance various sustainability obstacles. While certain areas are clear no-go territories, when looking at food production, is carbon footprint more important than overfishing, than pesticide use, or indeed air or water pollution, he asked.

Van den Breemer then outlined the Challenge of Cost, whereby sustainability is something that’s desired but hardly paid for, or in a disconnected part of the value chain it’s perhaps paid months or even years after the actual cost is considered.

He defined Challenge of Content as where there’s insufficiently detailed data to deliver full traceability, chain of custody, industry agreements on cradle-to-cradle life cycle analysis etc. nor is there the administrative systems or technology to overcome these shortfalls without adding massive manual resources.

Last but not least, Van den Breemer explained there’s the Challenge of Certainty, where unlike with prices for raw materials, there’s no precedent for what needs to be done. “There are many unknown unknowns; we don’t know if our targets are strong enough, or feasible; we don't know if we’ve reached or passed a tipping point; we don't know how long we can continue stress testing our Earth; and we can't easily see or measure the targets,” he said.

I want the industry to have the courage to care; for themselves, their families and the industry, and to make sure that in five years from now, we’re all taking responsibility for our full environmental and social impacts and making sustainable feed ingredients and thereby a sustainable aquaculture industry a fact-based reality.
Robert van den Breemer, Procurement Director Macro Ingredients, Nutreco

“Personally, I believe the challenge of commonality makes it especially difficult to act as it’s a common problem that we all have to live with, but which nobody pays the bill for. So, to deal with this and the other challenges, I would like to introduce a new name for this problem, ‘true cost’; and a name for the solution, ‘true price’.”

He explained to the conference that true cost accounting is a new type of bookkeeping that doesn’t merely look at financial values within a company; it also calculates the impacts on the natural and social environment in which the company operates. These impacts are calculated in monetary terms, so the amounts can be incorporated in the true cost books. As such, the "hidden costs" of production, which were previously externalised are made visible and internalised.

Despite the challenges that continue to present themselves to the aquaculture space, Van den Breemer is confident that it can rise to meet and eventually overcome them. The industry has a history of doing just that, he reminded the audience, pointing to its replacement of fishmeal and fish oil, its removal of dioxins, its successful introduction of extruded feed into shrimp farming, and the sourcing of 100% deforestation-free soy by the Norwegian salmon sector.

“We all did it, so let's make the next challenge true sustainability – in the full sense of the word,” he said.

“I want the industry to have the courage to care; for themselves, their families and the industry, and to make sure that in five years from now, we’re all taking responsibility for our full environmental and social impacts and making sustainable feed ingredients and thereby a sustainable aquaculture industry a fact-based reality.”