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1.3 Issues and Challenges

Shehadeh, Z.H. and M. Pedini

The aquaculture sector is comprised of a diverse set of aquatic species and farming practices, in widely varying cultural, socio-economic and institutional settings. Considering this complexity, we have attempted here to discuss only some of the broader issues facing the sector, and detail is limited. However, additional in-depth information can be accessed from the cited literature. Detailed discussion on selected topics (environment, biodiversity/genetics, feed resources, regulatory frameworks, fish health/quarantine and product safety) are also provided in Section 2, Selected Developments and Trends. Specific regional and sub-regional issues are presented in Section 3, Regional Reviews.

Sustainable development

Sustainable development is the overriding strategic issue and challenge to all economic sectors, including aquaculture. The vast majority of aquaculture practices around the world have been pursued with significant nutritional and social benefits, and generally with little or no environmental costs (FAO, 1997). However, the record is not unblemished and some forms of industrial aquaculture require further examination; actual and perceived negative impacts of aquaculture have already constrained the pace of development, mainly in the coastal zone, in some countries. In addition, many countries are looking to aquaculture to minimize the food fish supply-demand gap and to earn more foreign exchange. These countries have intensified their efforts to increase aquaculture production. This will involve the use of additional natural resources and other inputs, in a climate of increasing competition for resources and concern for the environment.

Issues of sustainability can be expected to change our perceptions of desirable forms of aquaculture development and management (Roberts and Muir, 1995); new ways of farming that strike a balance between food security and the environmental and resource costs of production will have to be adopted (Roberts and Muir, 1995; Pillay, 1996). In the future, the long-standing goal of producing particular species at competitive prices is likely to become insufficient, by itself, to realize full market potential: acceptable sustainability credentials will probably be equally essential in the future (Howarth, 1996). This trend is evident at present mainly in the case of internationally and regionally traded aquaculture products, and is manifested in initiatives to link trade to sustainability credentials (Riggs, 1996).

If aquaculture is to develop and provide for current and future needs in a sustainable manner, there is need to take stock of and address, as necessary, a number of issues, including, inter alia:

These, and many other aspects of sustainable aquaculture development have been discussed in a number of regional and international fora (e.g. ADB/NACA, 1996; FAO/NACA, 1995; FAO/Japan, 1995; Reinertsen and Haaland, 1995; Nambiar and Singh, 1996; PACON, 1995; Bagarinao and Flores, 1995).

The unanimous adoption of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (CCRF) by the 1995 FAO Conference was a landmark in facilitating sustainable fisheries (including aquaculture) management and development. The CCRF provides, inter alia, "principles and criteria for the elaboration and implementation of national policies for responsible conservation of fisheries resources and fisheries management and development" and "standards of conduct for all persons involved in the fisheries sector" (see CCRF, Article 2 for complete list of CCRF objectives; FAO, 1995). The FAO Technical Guidelines for Responsible Fisheries No.5 (FAO, 1997) provides annotations to the principles of Article 9--Aquaculture Development--of the CCRF, intended to facilitate its implementation. Various other guidelines in support of the implementation of the CCRF are under preparation by FAO, and assistance is being provided to requesting countries to adapt the Code to local conditions and to develop the necessary institutional framework.

Fish farmers, entrepreneurs and government agencies do not yet have a clear idea of what the CCRF involves, how sustainability choices might apply in practice, and the economic cost of its application. The complex task at hand is to put the principles of the CCRF into operation; that is, to clarify how sustainability choices might work in practice; to incorporate its principles into development policies and plans; and to elaborate specific codes of responsible practice containing norms, standards and guidelines, agreed upon by all stakeholders. Given the diversity of aquaculture practices, and of the political, social and economic conditions in which they take place, as well as the different perceptions of "sustainability", balanced and informed approaches are required to effectively address developmental and environmental issues at any one location (Barg et al., 1997). Further, the applicability of various approaches needs to be assessed carefully, particularly where there are many small-scale farmers involved, and in view of the often highly decentralized nature of the aquaculture industry (Phillips and Macintosh, 1996).

Finally, the capacity of developing countries to implement the recommendations of the CCRF should also be taken into account and technical assistance provided as needed (see CCRF Article 5--Special Requirements of Developing countries).

Many of the negative environmental effects of aquaculture can be resolved through better management at various levels, from the farm to the watershed and the shared coastal areas (Beveridge et al., 1997). In spite of the major effort needed, most of the objectives of sustainable aquaculture can be achieved through better understanding and commitment of all concerned in the development of the sector.

Institutional aspects

The importance of the wider context of development--the political, economic, social, environmental and legal factors influencing the sector--needs to be more widely recognized. In many countries, and particularly in the case of high-value species, technological advancement and the growth of aquaculture have outpaced the development of adequate planning and management frameworks. Structures of planning and development, and the legal and institutional framework in which they exist, have been increasingly challenged in responding to the emerging needs of the sector, or for creating and maintaining an appropriate climate for growth, management and control (Muir, 1995). This has sometimes led to environmental and social problems, as in the case of the shrimp and salmon culture industries.

In spite of the trend towards reduced government intervention in development, it has been argued that centralized regulations are needed to ensure equitable allocation and sustainable management of resources, especially since an integrated view of resource use, in which aquaculture is but one of several users, is essential for sustainable development and to provide opportunities for growth (Pillay, 1996; Beveridge et al., 1997; Chua, 1997). This is supported by the fact that a laissez-faire, economically driven aquaculture industry has not been sustainable on that basis alone; some measure of public intervention (monitoring and surveillance) seems to be necessary to ensure sustainability, possibly in combination with effective voluntary codes of practice. However, public consensus and participation in decision making are also essential if conflicts are to be minimized and satisfactory compromises made among competing groups ( Roberts and Muir, 1995; Beveridge et al., 1997). In general, the role of public and private institutions in the regulation and support of the sector need to be worked out under prevailing local conditions and, as noted above, the practical application and enforceability of proposed approaches should be carefully assessed.

Considerable political will is a prerequisite for successful establishment of sustainable approaches to development. This involves the adoption of various policy measures which may include, inter alia, extensive consultation with and/or participation of those affected by the proposed policy measures, strict adoption of the principles of inter-generation equity, and recognition of the need to devolve management to the lowest practical level of responsibility (FAO/Japan, 1995). Difficult decisions will have to be made, often in the absence of adequate information, at almost all levels of the development process. The institutional demands are considerable. Appropriate legal frameworks, new skills and improved capacities, especially policy analysis at the sector and project levels, as well as new and efficient means of communication, will be required. Local training is also needed to enable decentralized management. These requirements underline the need for the formation and strengthening of the appropriate institutional capacities and mechanisms for aquaculture development planning, management and control. There is also need to develop tools and guidelines and to ensure access to relevant information to help establish development policies and plans.

Resource issues

Aquaculture has requirements for land and water, and varying levels of demand for fertilizers and feeds. The characteristics of the development approaches taken will have clear implications for the extent and nature of resource use; decisions and trends in particular directions will create specific and definable changes in resource demand. Input levels and the configuration of inputs and natural resource use have significant implications for production system-environment interactions.

The increasing concern about environmental impact and general sustainability has wider resource implications. Energy analysis, ecological footprint analysis, and generalized sustainability assessments are being developed and applied to measure the resource demands and environmental cost of aquaculture, and to compare these with the potential benefits (Pimental et al., 1996; Folke and Kautsky,1989; Kautsky and Folke, 1990; Kautsky et al., 1997). Future aquaculture project assessments may involve defining not only the technical, economic and social feasibility of a project, but also its environmental efficiency. Within these broad contexts then, aquaculture, like other sectors, must compete for and justify its claims on these resources.

In many areas where aquaculture has expanded during the last decade, there is increasing pressure on the use of existing sites and there are now fewer new sites available, particularly in the coastal zone, but also inland in some countries. For land-based sites, there is increasing demand for agriculture, settlement and conservation; for water-based sites, the coastal and shore margins have an increasingly high value for settlement, recreation and conservation.

The decreasing availability of good sites and the need to overcome deficiencies of alternative, less optimal, sites will probably increase both capital and operating costs. The extent of the challenge to development will depend on the nature and magnitude of available resources, existing competition for these resources and the aquaculture development policies adopted at the national level.

Accordingly, assessments of resource use and capacity are essential for successful and sustainable aquaculture, in (a) identifying and quantifying physical, social and other factors necessary for efficient and cost-effective production, defining constraints and determining the costs/benefits of overcoming these; (b) identifying and resolving resource-allocation problems, helping to define priorities, contributing to planning processes and decisions, and providing rationales and criteria for developing resources; and (c) defining environmental limitations and providing the basis for sound and effective environmental management (Muir, 1995).

The bulk of aquaculture production is at present derived from extensive and semi-intensive production systems but there is a clear and accelerating trend towards more intensive forms of production to meet market demand for fish. One of the major questions in the development of the sector will be that of the mode of intensification, or the nature of the production systems being developed. This has clear implications for the extent and nature of resource use and the magnitude of potential environmental externalities.

Given these demands at the strategic level, as well as that of the individual enterprise, it is clear that efforts to improve resource-use efficiency, and to conserve critical inputs, will become increasingly important (Muir, 1992; Beveridge and Phillips, 1993). This should be a priority topic for systems research. Possible benefits are illustrated by the culture of salmon in Norway, where a combination of low-pollution feeds, vaccines, genetic improvement, lower stocking densities and improved feeding strategies have increased resource-use efficiency, reduced externalities and maintained an acceptable profit margin in the face of falling market price (Blakstad, 1995). Resource-use efficiency may also be achieved through integration of aquaculture with irrigation systems and agriculture, as well as through use of inland surface waters and floodplains for certain forms of aquaculture production. Increasing the awareness of policy makers and planners in agriculture about opportunities for and economic benefits of such integration would help it become a reality. The motivation for such integration will probably increase with increasing pressure on resources. There is also need to encourage and support research to develop new forms of integrated aquaculture-agriculture systems, and other innovative systems that can effectively respond to resource and environmental challenges. In this connection, attention should be given to resolving the economic and evironmental challenges of stock enhancement and ranching, as well as of off-shore cage culture.

Information and communication

The management of aquaculture has become a complex task. The challenges associated with sustainable development demand interdisciplinary and intersectoral strategies. These will require, inter alia, access to information on a variety of topics, and to efficient tools to integrate and analyze multidisciplinary and intersectoral data. Development in the absence of reliable information, planning and management would have to proceed under conditions of high uncertainty about the impact of selected policy directions and development plans. In recognition of this, Article 9.2.4 of the CCRF urges that: "States should establish appropriate mechanisms, such as data bases and information networks to collect, share and disseminate data related to their aquaculture activities to facilitate co-operation on planning for aquaculture development at the national, regional and international level." (FAO, 1995).

Access to and effective dissemination of reliable and relevant information in a useful form is needed more urgently now than ever before to facilitate informed decision making and responsible actions at all levels; more specifically, to:

Past attempts at the establishment of national and regional information systems in Asia were not fruitful largely due to a lack of conviction by policy makers, planners and managers about the utility of maintaining databases and information systems (Cho, 1995). Sustainable development of information programmes requires, in the first instance, an understanding of the essential role of information in the management of the sector. This has to be translated to commitment and political will, demonstrated by incorporation of aquaculture information policies into national aquaculture/fisheries policies, and the allocation of appropriate support. Additionally, there will be need for increasing the relevance and utility of information through consolidation and packaging of data and information in the context of the main problems and user needs.

There is an equal need for the development of effective tools and methods to manage and analyze not only disciplinary information, but also interdisciplinary and intersectoral data (e.g. decision support systems, application of GIS methods). Mechanisms are also needed to assist and promote exchange and use of information among related programmes and agencies at the national and regional levels. The strengthening of extension services and the development of novel extension mechanisms (e.g. involving co-operation between the private and public sector and/or farmer-to-farmer approaches, and integration with agricultural extension services) should command special attention. This is particularly important where the sector is largely made up of numerous small-scale practitioners, as is the case in developing countries. The promotion of associations of small-scale fish farmers would be a step forward in improving extension and communications in general.

It is understood that some of the information needed for sustainable development and management of aquaculture is not available and must be generated through research. However, considerable information on various aspects of aquaculture exists and much of this is in the grey literature. First priority should be given, therefore, to the collation and assessment of this information, increasing user access to it and, where necessary, to its repackaging into more user-friendly products.

In the near term, it is important to collect, at the national level, considerable information on economic and social aspects, resource use and efficiency, employment benefits, beneficiaries and other attributes of major aquaculture production systems to enable rational decisions to be made on integration of aquaculture into resource management plans, agriculture and rural development. This information should be aggregated, analyzed and the results packaged in usable form (possibly in the form of specific indicators) for decision makers. The specific nature and amount of information to be collected, the frequency of updating the information, and cost-effective methods for doing this, require special attention.

The sustainability of regional information systems depends first and foremost on the existence of operational national information systems. Development must first focus at the national level. Secondly, in facilitating the development/strengthening of both systems, information services and products must evolve and adapt to the needs and capacities of developing countries, and to the changes brought about by advances in information technology, to the extent that this technology can be used/afforded by those who need information most. If we let technology alone determine the approach, we will probably fail.


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