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Bringing RAS to China

November 12, 2019  By  Michael Ben Timmons

I hope you enjoyed your summer since that season has come and gone. At the time of this writing, the leaves are already falling in New York. Time marches on.

In July this past summer, I had the privilege to teach two courses in China at the Communication University of China (CUC) in Beijing. I taught two courses: one on solar energy and the other on entrepreneurship (two of the courses I teach at Cornell University).

Only in its second year, the CUC program had 200 students being taught by 20 professors from the United States. The courses covered a wide range of topics (filmmaking, ornithology, gender issues, my two courses, and others). The intent of all courses was to cover about 50 percent of USA culture and western teaching methods.


I had 17 of the 200 students. I like to do ‘real’ projects with my students so I had the students focus on developing a business plan to implement an aquaponics operation into a SOS Children’s Village (there was a SOS Village in Beijing and one in Nanjing. See www.sos-childrensvillages.org for more info on SOS). My students visited one of the villages to do a site feasibility analysis, and then over the two-week period presented a complete business plan for implementation.

I’m happy to report that the Nanjing SOS Village is now in the process of seeking approval to install an aquaponics system. Wow!

Why was this project so quickly accepted by the Chinese? China has recognized the need to be able to produce food in a sustainable manner and to do it quickly. We have to figure out a way to feed an additional three billion people in the next 40 years or so.

China also recognizes the need to adapt food production methods that do not harm the environment. And guess what? RAS in China is a big deal.

There are several fish projects underway in China and – guess, again – these projects are using the mixed cell raceway (MCR) design that I have previously written about.

It was very gratifying to see an existing farm that is producing over 500 tons per year of Coho salmon using the MCR design. MCR appears to be the system of choice in China, at least by some (probably those who have read my book, Recirculating Aquaculture by Timmons, Guerdat, and Vinci fourth edition, Ithaca Publishing Company).

I participated as a keynote speaker in the first annual Chinese-American Summit on Recirculating Aquaculture on August 3 at Zhejiang University. The event was hosted and organized by Dr. Songming Zhu. This summit was absolutely amazing. I learned so much about China and its current aquaculture industry.

At the end of the day-long conference, much to my surprise, there was a presentation to unveil the Chinese version of our book, Recirculating Aquaculture, and Dr. Zhu is a co-author. This conference was important as it allowed me to make some key contacts with leading industrial aquaculture companies.

At the conclusion of my China trip, I was asked by the US Soybean Export Council (USSEC) director Jim Zhang to conduct a one-day workshop on the basics of RAS. USSEC has been promoting the intensive pond aquaculture system that was developed by Dr. David Brune when he was at Clemson University. However, the Chinese government is now requiring greater control and scrutiny over all commercial operations that adversely affect the environment. The best way to prevent any environmental degradation caused by fish farming is to implement RAS. So, my charge for the one-day workshop was to explain to the USSEC client base what RAS is, its benefits, and how to implement such systems. The workshop was very well received and concluded with discussion and brainstorming on how to implement 100 RAS farms in China in the near future. When China decides to do something, they often do it in earth shaking form. Maybe China will see the first cluster communities that are formed around RAS. I’m ready to help and am looking forward to our next steps.

So, when I visit next summer, maybe the fourth or fifth MCR system will be under construction.

If you want to learn more about RAS or would like one of your employees take my course on RAS, tell them Dr. T referred you and receive a 10 percent discount or 25 percent for teams of three or more. Find out more at www.eCornell.com/fish.

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