Don't miss the boat on tropical marine aquaculture

October 25, 2022 | 04:28 pm PT
Josh Goldman Businessman
When I first traveled to Vietnam in 2006 to expand my business, I was impressed by what I saw.

The intelligence, skill and focus of the workers, the dedication of the research community and some very unique locations gave me the confidence to invest here for the long term.

Beginning in 2008, my company pioneered a new path for tropical aquaculture by adapting proven technologies from Norway's salmon industry to the unique conditions and species in Vietnam. Since then, we have grown to become SE Asia's leading marine aquaculture producer and invested to build markets for barramundi – which we have come to think of as "the tropical salmon."

Over this time, I have witnessed Vietnam flourishing to become Asia's new economic star. Accompanying the prosperity of the broader country, our Vietnam business has grown from initial modest production of 30 tons in 2008 to around 10,000 tons today – making it the largest in the world.

Looking ahead over the next 30 years, climate change will fundamentally re-shape the global food system. The IPCC predicts that wild fish landings in tropical countries will decline by 40% -- impelling the livelihoods of tens of thousands of Vietnamese fishermen and the factories that process their products for export.

And climate change is already creating big problems for salmon farms whose requirement for cold water is constraining their ability to keep pace with demand.

The projected 80% increase in global seafood demand adds up to big opportunity for Vietnam. With the right policies and planning, Vietnam can birth the development of a new, multi-billion-dollar sustainable industry by getting serious about farming the seas.

Men look over an offshore fish farm in Van Phong Bay, Vietnam. Photo handout via VnExpress

Men look over an offshore fish farm in Van Phong Bay, Vietnam. Photo handout via VnExpress

After nearly 20 years of investment and technical and market development, my company has plans to expand its production to 40,000 tons of seabass. Other businesses can follow this model and have a promising future so long as the sector is supported by wise planning policies.

But ocean farming only works on sites with the right features -- well protected from typhoons, in deeper water bays and with high water quality.  Our operations are centered in Van Phong Bay, one of Vietnam's special economic zones and the "cradle" of marine aquaculture innovation in Vietnam.   

Unfortunately, the new Van Phong Economic Zone master plan, which is being adjusted to submit to the prime minister for re-approval, does not allocate space for marine aquaculture - despite the size and success the aquaculture and its critical importance in the realization of the national vision for marine aquaculture. Instead, the plan bets on mega projects of resort real estate, financial service centers with a scale of up to tens of thousands of apartments, villas, and hotel rooms that no one is sure can be filled.

Smart growth builds from regional strengths and leverage synergies between sectors. For example, there are natural synergies between tourism, aquaculture, and logistics that can make each sector stronger if integrated into a smart growth plan. Norway has long done this and proven that integrates models work best.

So far, VPEZ plan has yet to embrace marine spatial planning or to prioritize the areas where marine aquaculture can succeed -- putting Vietnam's bright "blue" future at risk. Given the impact of climate change on traditional fish supplies coupled with soaring global demand for seafood, it's the right time to seize the opportunity so we don't miss the boat for a healthier and more sustainable future.

*Josh Goldman is Founder/CEO of Australis Aquaculture.

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