The development of large-scale offshore aquaculture is seen by many as the best method for Southeast Asia to meet growing seafood demand in the region – and demand for increasingly scarce marine species like grouper in particular. Believers in the bright potential of offshore aquaculture in the region include Lukas Manomaitis, an aquaculture and seafood consultant at Seafood Consulting Associates in Bangkok, Thailand. Formed in 2001, the firm’s main client is the U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC). Manomaitis serves as
SeafoodSource: What's stimulating the growth in offshore aquaculture in Southeast Asia?
Manomaitis: There are a few reasons why we are seeing rising interest in offshore aquaculture in Southeast Asia. In short, we see that most of the wild-capture fisheries in the region are under severe stress. With the exception of Indonesia, which still seems to have some strong fisheries stocks, the other Southeast Asian nations will need to find other ways to supply their marine fish demand. If we look at Southeast Asia as a region, is a bit surprising how little marine fish are being produced through aquaculture. For contrast, look at Norway, a country with about five million
SeafoodSource: What species have the best potential for offshore aquaculture operations in Southeast Asia?
Manomaitis: Currently, the largest marine fish produced through aquaculture in the region is milkfish, but milkfish is not a high-value species and is not well known or appreciated outside of the Philippines, Indonesia, Taiwan and maybe parts of China. The remainder of the marine fish production is geared towards live market sales, so, for example, grouper or other high-value species. This low level of production cannot continue if the industry is going to try to replace the marine fish that are no longer going to be available from the wild. Essentially, the time is coming
SeafoodSource: Is offshore aquaculture in the region state-driven, or there are key private players?
Manomaitis: The move to offshore cage aquaculture per marine fish is driven by several different kinds of players in the region. Generally speaking, we feel that commercial industry is always the one that is going to move things the most quickly. However, in this case, governments are also starting to see the value in looking at
However, what we are seeing now seems to be a growing recognition that offshore cage aquaculture has a future Southeast Asia. For example, in Indonesia, the government is opening three offshore cage aquaculture sites to test the technology. We are also seeing private investors starting to test the waters, investigating the best approaches towards cage aquaculture both in the technology approach and what species might be the target. An example of this is Marine Life Aquaculture in Singapore, which has cages situated in deep waters near St. John's Island close to Singapore. There's also interest from other investment firms as well as companies that are in the agriculture sector that have an interest in moving into an integrated approach to
SeafoodSource: What are the key challenges to growing offshore cage aquaculture in the region?
Manomaitis: The biggest challenge to offshore cage aquaculture in Southeast Asia can be summarized in one word: security. Offshore cage culture technology is already successfully run around the world. Although there is always room for improvement, the basics of the technology,
So, for security and the zoning and licensing issues,
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SeafoodSource: Do you foresee difficulties in acquiring broodstock for mass production of marine species?
Manomaitis: If issues with governments could be taken care of, there would still be some issues that are of critical importance to moving this industry forward. The first is broodstock. When it comes to marine fish, it takes
Generally speaking, when it comes to industrial offshore marine cage aquaculture, the hatchery issue is going to be a large one because are going to need to see the development of much larger-scale hatcheries then we have in Southeast Asia today. The current situation in Southeast Asia is the most hatcheries are very small when it comes to marine fish, and they cannot produce the quantities of the qualities marine fish fingerlings we need. Again, Turkey may be a good example in this case particularly because the government developed the initial technology for marine fish hatcheries and then got out of the industry and let commercial firms take over. This is something that Southeast Asian governments should learn to emulate.
SeafoodSource: Is convincing investors a challenge?
Manomaitis: Another important issue will be the cost of investment into these kinds of offshore cage aquaculture systems. Investors are looking carefully at the potentials for increasing the volumes of marine fish produced. Some of the concerns they have are the fact there are few large-scale operations currently operating in Southeast Asia. They would prefer to invest in existing operations and to help them expand. At the moment is also a lack of aquaculture insurance – one of the key concerns by investors is the occurrence of disease in the aquaculture industry. While insurance and reinsurance companies are looking at aquaculture, this kind of coverage is not yet commonly used by aquaculture operators. Another thing that investors looking for
SeafoodSource: What are the main species involved in offshore aquaculture? Are they higher value species?
Manomaitis: Generally speaking, there is not been a decision on which species to use for offshore cage aquaculture in Southeast Asia. Potential marine species include those that are low value to the very high-value species. Again, the issue comes with obtaining the broodstock and seed for the species. It takes a long time to develop a new species and, aside from the broodstock and fingerling resources, we also need to think about the target markets. For example, milkfish is commonly produced in Indonesia and the Philippines and is well-liked by
If we are going to develop a successful offshore cage aquaculture industry in Southeast Asia, we will have to focus on the export sector internationally. The national domestic markets and regional markets probably cannot quickly absorb dramatic changes in the volumes produced by aquaculture. This is why it is important that when governments, investors, and others interested in this industry are looking to develop, they will need to think about what the market will be and how those markets will be developed.