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Opinion: Standing out during a pandemic

June 9, 2020  By Maddi Badiola

Suddenly, we were confined, in an alarm situation. After seeing how China was shut down, and even underestimating, the social distancing measures, silenced streets and closed shops, the entire world was soon affected by this little creature. After the first case in Spain showed up by the end January, the number of deaths from COVID-19 is over 23,000 in the country. Worldwide, the death toll has reached more than 220,000 as of this writing. Fear and respect are two sentiments that many people are currently feeling – not hugging, not kissing, keeping over two meters distance and wearing masks and gloves. Is this our future? Should we believe that the world has changed? Should we begin looking at a completely changed way of living? I am afraid the answer is, yes.

While all this is happening around us, one of the main sectors remaining active and more important than ever is the food sector. Supermarkets are the objective of people, both as essential place to go or as a reason to get out of their houses. It is obvious that we all need to eat.

We’ve heard different statistics on the news. They are even making comparisons between countries. Flour, chocolate, snacks, beer, other alcoholic beverages are top-ranked items, while experts are calling for healthier choices and a Mediterranean diet. And here is where the aquaculture industry enters and plays a key role. Not only because it is a source of good and healthy protein and fatty acids (in the case of salmon) but also because it employs millions of people, helping families to keep going during such an exceptional situation.

Industry response
The Aquaculture Stewardship Council has announced a campaign launched by the Seafood Nutrition Partnership to save an industry that employs more than two million Americans. With the hashtag #EatSeafoodAmerica, they are calling to buy sustainable seafood to support struggling farmers and fishermen.

Another initiative is donating seafood products to those families with real needs during these rough times. Bumble Bee Seafoods has donated $1 million in products to Feeding America organizations in three communities where they operate daily (San Diego and Los Angeles in California and in southern New Jersey).

At the same time, hoping to relieve the pressure on the public health system and provide quicker results for the region’s affected (including remote areas in southern Chile), the Chilean laboratory of Mowi, the largest salmon producer in the world, has been made available to health authorities, free of charge, for three months. They are offering their professional capacity and technical equipment to analyse up to 1,000 samples of COVID-19 daily. As we are aware, countries such as South Korea, whose health strategy was based on early diagnosis of the virus, prioritized widespread testing and early detection – key to successful pandemic containment.

Nevertheless, the most common initiative has been sharing recipes to cook at home – delicious homemade dishes to share with the family and to make children part of the blue revolution, making them concious and aware of the importance of the industry.

RAS advantages stand out
At this point, biosecurity is the only way to look forward: no biosecurity, no guarantee. The current pandemic should force all aquaculture stakeholders of all levels to pay greater attention to and invest more money on biosecurity, and this is where the RAS industry stands out.

This is the time when RAS systems are going to become a more important factor in our food systems. Traceable and biosecure are two parameters that RAS companies share, at least more than the old technologies or farming methods. Every second of a fish’s life stage is accounted for, controlling all inputs and thus, all the advantages. Monitoring, auditing, data analysis and comparison make RAS the most traceable food industry. High technology engineering systems together with good management all come together in RAS.

Of course, improvements are needed and RAS experts should make this case to the investors. Many farms identify setpoints and red lines once they are operating, needing infrastructure modifications afterwards – and having to make that call for more money to your board of directors.

Triple thinking
If you are an engineer, design a RAS by thinking as a fish, as an employee and as the different inputs of the system. Question yourself, find the most suitable answer for each of the cases and combine them. Use different colors. This will also be helpful in explaining paths to the investors, who in most cases, are not completely aware of the complexity of this business. They need less technical language and more friendly and colloquial framework. They seek enlightenment, good counsel and good decisions.

Biosecurity is required and essential when designing and planning a RAS project. Biosecurity is crucial in every corner, every industry. This pandemic situation has highlighted the weaknesses for companies, the unsecure side of different sectors. During this crisis, the importance of aquaculture in general, and RAS in particular, has stood out.

Keep your perspectives in the horizon, your priorities clear and be diligent. Your customers, employees, friends and family are counting on you.

Maddi Badiola, PhD, is a RAS engineer and co-founder of HTH aquaMetrics llc, (www.HTHaqua.com) based in Getxo, Basque Country, Spain. Her specialty is energy conservation, lifecycle assessments and RAS global sustainability assessments. Email her at mbadiolamillate@gmail.com or contatct her through LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.

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