Diversification

It is amazing to realize how very little the aquaculture sector is diversified in some countries or significant producing regions. For example, the salmon aquaculture in Canada represents 68.2% of the tonnage of the aquaculture industry and 87.2% of its farmgate value. In Norway, Scotland, and Chile, the salmon aquaculture represents 88.8%, 93.3%, and 81.9% of the tonnage of the aquaculture industry, and 87.3%, 90.9%, and 95.5% of its farmgate value, respectively. Conversely, while Spain (Galicia) produces only 8% of salmon in tonnage (16% in farmgate value), it produces 81% of its tonnage in mussels (28% in farmgate value). Why do we think that the common old saying ''Do not put all your eggs in one basket'', which applies to agriculture and many other businesses, would not also apply to aquaculture? Having too much of your production in a single species leaves a business vulnerable to issues of sustainability because of low prices due to oversupply, and the possibility of catastrophic destruction of your only crop (diseases, damaging weather conditions). Consequently, diversification of the aquaculture industry is imperative to reducing the economic risk and maintaining its sustainability and competitiveness.

The traditional view of diversification often means producing another product along the same lines of the first, that would fit into the existing production and marketing systems. In finfish aquaculture, this has usually meant salmon, cod, haddock, or halibut. However, from an ecological point of view, these are all 'shades of the same colour'. No synergies are created; rather, these situations compound the impacts on the system. True ecological diversification means changes at more than one trophic level, that is, switching from another species of finfish to another group of organisms of lower trophic level (e.g., shellfish, seaweeds, worms, bacteria, etc.) more resembling a natural ecosystem. Staying at the same ecological trophic level will not address some of the environmental issues because the system will remain unbalanced due to the nonstable distribution of energy and nondiversified resource needs.

Economic diversification should also mean looking at seafood from a different angle. Aquaculture products on the market today are very similar to those obtained from the traditional fishery resources, and are, thus, often in direct competition. While this may be part of the market forces at work, the opportunity exists to diversify from the fish fillets, or mussels and oysters on a plate in a restaurant, to a large untapped array of bioactive compounds of marine origin (e.g., pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals, functional foods, cosmeceuticals, botanicals, pigments, agrichemicals and biostimulants, and industry-relevant molecules). Research and development on alternative species should no longer be considered as R&D on alternative finfish species, but rather on alternative marine products.

Moreover, diversification should be viewed as an investment portfolio, with short-term, long-term, high-risk, and low-risk components, and with long-term growth and stability as the main objectives.

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