Photo by Brian Skerry

Why Every Conference

Is All About The Fish

It’s not just me; everybody is talking about aquaculture. Granted, as a partner in an investment fund devoted to sustainable fish farming, I am primed to pick up on trends in this space…but I’ve got proof.

First, what is aquaculture: it’s basically the farming of anything that comes from the ocean (think seaweed to seafood). Ideally this farming should be as clean and productive as possible — and ultimately a means to removing the pressure on the overfishing of our oceans.

Photo by Brian Skerry

The stat I often share is that continuing to fish at current rates will turn our oceans into virtual deserts by 2050. But we’re not going to keep fishing at current rates. More people are eating more fish, which could be a good thing if we get aquaculture right. When done well, aquaculture is the best, most resource efficient way of producing animal protein. What we’re working to do is find — and invest in — ways to deliver precise amounts of food and reduce, if not eliminate, antibiotics.

It’s crucial that we get this right, because aquaculture is here to stay and growing — at a rate of 9% worldwide, which makes it the fastest growing form of food production in the world.

With growing populations and an expanding global middle class that seeks healthy protein, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) predicts that rises in the global demand for fish are expected to continue — and the output needed to fulfill is expected to double.

And THIS is why aquaculture is on the proverbial global conference menu. And I don’t just mean the aquaculture circuit I’ve found myself in since departing TED, where I first got introduced to this topic by deep sea explorer Sylvia Earle, but the big conferences that dig into all sorts of global issues.

Sylvia Earle at TED2009, Session 7: Dream, Feb. 5, 2009, Long Beach, CA credit: TED / Asa Mathat

In the last few months, we’ve attended the annual World Aquaculture Society meeting, the Northeast Aquaculture Conference, and both the Boston and Brussels Seafood shows. All are great for exploring this issue, but surprising are the big summits — looking at major international trends — that are entering this space.

This past March, the Clinton Global Initiative held its first ocean-focused event, with a main track being sustainable aquaculture. They brought together business leaders, buyers, retailers, NGOs, government leaders and investors to identify the challenges to creating a more sustainable industry.

The Economist’s World Ocean Summit will convene more than 250 global leaders from various sectors with direct interests in the ocean. The goal: igniting a constructive dialogue that, notably, will include aquaculture panels and speakers for the very first time.

And then there is Fish 2.0, a business competition that connects sustainable fishing and aquaculture businesses with potential investors. The 2015 Fish 2.0 competition received 170 entries, up from 83 in 2013. The event in November will bring these entrepreneurs into the discussion of improving and growing the industry with foundations, investors, retailers and a number of big aquaculture businesses.

My point here isn’t to plan out your aquaculture conference circuit (though you’re welcome if this is something you’re interested in). I’m simply pointing to a major topic that’s trending globally. Aquaculture is no longer an esoteric topic but, like the farm-to-table movement, a central environmental and food security issue. This is a growing industry to watch and discuss around both dinner tables and conference tables.