Tuesday, October 9, 2018

the interview | Alistair Lane, Executive Director of the European Aquaculture Society

Alistair Lane has spent over 18 years working for the European Aquaculture Society, whilst also having experience at aquaculture feed company EWOS France.

How did you get into aquaculture?
I did a master’s degree in Bangor University in North Wales and at that time aquaculture didn’t exist, it was marine biology, and there was a guy working on live feeds for hatcheries in shrimp and fish at the university. I did my master’s with him and he had connections with the Mars group, who set up a company in the mid-80s, a global company called Larval Feeds and I went to work with them.
I realised I didn’t want to be a researcher, I wanted to get out and see what was happening, so I started in the mid-80s. I worked in the feeds sector for 15 years and then I came to work with European Aquaculture Society in 2000.

What EAS’s priorities and goals?
We have built up over the last 10 years a good annual event and we are finding that more and more people are coming back, we have some loyalty and it’s a good place to get a multi-disciplinary and helicopter view of what is happening and also to try and continue with the objectives of the EAS, which is to build the bridges between science and industry.
That has been going for 40 years and it is still our principal objective, but what we are trying to do now is to try and empower our members to do what they do here, all year round. The whole idea of electronic networking is easy, we all do it every day, and we have the tools to do it, we’ve been late adopting those tools and now we are pushing onto making an EAS community within the European aquaculture community, that sits in the global community.

With this network are you going to have certain schedules at meetings on the network?
We can, we have sub groups within the membership of EAS which we call thematic groups so people with a common interest. For example, we have a good group on persive fish and recirculating systems involving industry, start-ups, scientists etc.
We have another one on flat oysters, we have one on eels, on rotifers and other kinds of plankton and cocopods, so these groups are interest groups within the main membership and we ask them now to build a programme of webinars that we can diffuse to our members and pass that information on to the wider community. It’s all about these concentric circles within a group of people so that is what we are focussing on right now.

There is a lot of research going on. Is that going to be part of what you are doing as part of the EAS?
It always has been and we are involved in projects to a certain extent, we are reviewing our strategy about our involvement. If ES goes in as a partner on a European project for example, the competing consortia to get that grant will be ES members and so, in some cases, we are in a difficult position.
We want to give the projects a platform at Aquaculture Europe so they can have their own meetings and have their consortia come here and join the events. It’s more about providing a space and a platform for them. We disseminate a lot of their information in our publications and magazines and online.
I think webinars would be a good thing for them to use if they want to get their message across. We are not a federation or a producers’ organisation but we do have contacts in the industry so a lot of these projects are obliged to include industry stakeholders, industry platforms, and they don’t necessarily have the access to that outside of their own countries and so that is something we can provide for them.

What do you see as some of the biggest challenges to European aquaculture in the short term?
Simply growing. We are here in France today and people in Brussels and in French policy discussions have said there’s not been one new licence in France in 10 years, but that has changed now. France is behind the curve in terms of its spatial planning and allocation of zones where aquaculture can develop. We are seeing it in more European countries.
The Commission said recently there’s been a two percent growth in volume last year and a four percent growth in value. I think Europe will grow at a much lower rate, generally, in terms of volume, but where Europe has its niche in high-quality product for the high-end market, so the value of the sector will grow more disproportionately to the volume.
A lot of European companies are looking outside of Europe because there is simply too many constraints, investors are shy because of lengthy and bureaucratic processes, but what we are seeing in Europe is a plethora of start-ups and Europe has traditionally been strong on research but weak on innovation.

A lot of European countries don’t have coastlines. Do you see aquaculture as being mainly offshore or onshore?
I think the whole question about offshore aquaculture is a little bit false because it’s not how far you go away from the coast, it’s the energy of the water that you use and there’s coastal areas that have high wave action and in these areas and also in central Europe the way forward is recirculating land-based systems. The difficulty we have now is proving the economic viability of these for growing.
We use them for hatches, for early stages, the question about fully land based salmon production from smalt to market is one for the time being, we haven’t seen economic feasibility of doing it, but it will play a part in the life cycle and it does already.
In European countries that don’t have access to the coastal area, they have no choice. If they want to develop aquaculture, it’s on land. The recirculating systems can have and will have a place for high value species like plankton, of which there is a growing market demand for this kind of fish. The problem is always been the consumer desire to eat fresh water fish, but I think now with high value, better tasting fish that consumers want to buy and that possibly even think are as good as marine fish, those species would be perfect for recycling.
Then we have micro-algae and macro-algae on land production as well where they can provide, not a final product, but an input into feeds or other parts of the production cycle so they still have the possibility to develop. For example, Germany has access to the coast, but the development of aquaculture in Germany will be based around re-circulation and better utilisation of water.

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