time to invest in aquaculture

BY Leslie Ter Morshuizen

In 2013 the production of fish and other crops by aquaculture exceeded the wild harvest for the 1st time when 97 million tons was farmed.  If we consider the statistics of these two industries in parallel, fisheries have been stationary at around 90 million tons p.a. from 1990 to 2015, whereas aquaculture has grown by 6.9% year on year over the same 26 year period.  The value of the growth portion of the aquaculture industry is around $6 billion p.a., representing a substantial annual increase in revenues!  In simple terms the global human population is growing quickly but wild harvests are stagnant, encouraging the growth of the aquaculture to make up the difference between the wild supply and ever increasing demand.
Several factors contribute to aquaculture representing an attractive investment opportunity.  Seafood (freshwater and marine products are loosely lumped under this term) is widely recognised as having many health benefits for the consumer.  Brain development, anti-cholesterol properties, anti-cancer, minerals and vitamins are all part of these positive attributes.  Perhaps an unexpected advantage that has developed recently is that farmed products can be healthier than wild animals.  An example of this is the was discovery by a Dutch company that pangasius farmed in Vietnam contained lower levels of a range of contaminants than was present in wild caught fish from the EU (see `whitefish wars’).  Highly detailed production, processing and sales quality management systems now trace every step in the line to provide the end consumer with comfort that the meal they are eating is from a sustainable, ethical and healthy source.  Programs such as SASSI (the Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative) strengthen the consumers hand, setting appropriately farmed and caught products apart from those regarded as being less sustainable.
We all want the rate of employment to improve and aquaculture offers real opportunities to employ people across the spectrum from unskilled, through semi-skilled to highly skilled employees.  By increasing employment levels we improve the economic prospects of our environment and reduce the risk of civil unrest.  Another advantage of aquaculture is that people can be employed in the rural areas, reducing the pressure on urban environments.
Technology is developing and improving continuously, enabling us to produce more fish of a better quality using less water and electricity.  Another major improvement is in environmental risk whereby refinements allow us to produce valuable crops on what was previously regarded as waste streams that were a problem to be solved.  Aquaponics is amazing new technology that utilises the wastes from an aquaculture system to produce crops which typically generate around 9x more revenue than the fish do, whilst simultaneously slashing new water usage and utilising the nutritious wastes as a feed source.  Understandably, aquaponics is growing rapidly as people recognise the opportunities this field offers.
For any industry to attract investment we need to see certain factors in place, starting with a stable socio-economic-political environment.  Labour laws need to be reasonable, the foreign exchange rate should be stable, and the licencing system streamlined and transparent.  In all of these areas we in SA have a little work to be done to attract the large-scale investors.
There are distinct opportunities and advantages to investing in aquaculture but a dollop of realism is also required.  Aquaculture is both skills and capital intensive; ensure you have adequate of both commodities on hand.  Many ventures struggle due to unexpected cash requirements and the long delay from investment to first sales.  Small ventures will struggle to be economically successful whereas a medium-to-large, vertically-integrated aquaculture business can reap the rewards of growing consumer demand vs stagnant wild fish harvests.

 February 26, 2018
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