Acuinuga. Acuicultura y Nutrición de Galicia


09-11-16 |

Complementing the complement

For decades the European political discourse has kept a conciliatory, ambiguous position over the development of aquaculture, defending that it will never replace the fisheries industry, becoming instead a complement for the supply of the seafood that fisheries can no longer bring up to the markets. But when aquaculture produces half of the global seafood supply, roughly 100 million tonnes with an estimated value of 150 billion Euros according to FAO, perhaps it is time to reflect upon who is complementing who.

This supposed complementarities take place under radically different conditions for both industries, even though our brilliant politicians insist in pooling them together as if they were of equal nature. The fisheries industry is decaying, losing jobs for many years, with its growth firmly capped by overfishing, political conflicts and the growing fragility of aquatic ecosystems - illegal fishing and piracy aside. Aquaculture on the contrary is growing strongly worldwide, evolving from a marginal position within the animal production industry to a key farming sector for the stocking up of high quality protein in the human global pantry. Aquaculture has also overcome in these last few years the main limiting factors conditioning its growth potential, namely the dependency on fisheries-derived fishmeal and fish oil for the production of aquafeed.

All of this however has not merited a reversal in the intensities of support to one or other activities, since the fisheries industry continues to enjoy the political hypersensitivity, infrastructure and administrative support historically denied to aquaculture.  For countries such as Spain and regions such as Galicia, which have been long term references in the development of fisheries technology and with millenary traditions, culture and knowhow refined around the handling, consumption and marketing of seafood, this should not be a minor issue. But here our leadership, when water is concerned, still chooses to support the hunting at the expense of the farming.

In order to achieve a level playing field, and as fair compensation for the most expensive "historical rights" in the global economy ever, a European entrepreneur in the field of aquaculture should receive generous public subsidies for the construction of facilities, the training and hiring of employees, energy and fuel expenses, security -including, if so required, the participation of the national armed forces-, the processing, marketing and publicity of the product, and monetary compensation for weather adversities compromising his or her aquabusiness. All the required infrastructure for the carrying out of the aquaculture trade should be generously financed by the public budget, including the proactive engagement of government ministries for the benefit of aquaculture (foreign affairs, industry, defense, environment, agriculture, research and development, etc.), and the application of a special tax and social security status. In the event of poor business or excess competition affecting profitability, the state should of course largely compensate for the losses.

Does anyone imagine the owner of a bankrupt furniture or shoes factory having to be compensated by the state with millions of public money for loss of activity? This is exactly the case with fishing companies in Europe, and they are not even required to reinvest in the agri-food sector. In our current situation, this terrible precedent of paying-for-not-doing is undoubtedly a comparative grievance and a good example of how the European public funds are currently dilapidated. When crony populism seizes the political strategy, the lack of vision and the absence of objectives for the future make impossible the realization of historical opportunities. Growth,  wealth and the jobs generation potential retained by aquaculture are then wasted, discarding with them the social, cultural and knowhow treasures amassed for centuries by fishing communities -as only aquaculture can effectively profit from this legacy. This is the result of the strategy for complementarity that has become political dogma in Galicia, Spain and Europe.