Ever since I have worked in marine agronomy I’ve wondered why, at least in European and other western countries, that aquatic farming has been limited to animals, and that its only concern was to improve production, without paying attention to any other considerations.
As a researcher in the field of developing and optimizing the cultivation of marine macroalgae for food, I have always thought that this could complement fish farming very well, and become a key element towards the economic and environmental sustainability of aquaculture in general.
It means that the production or exploitation of marine products must be a balanced activity, looking into the future, and well integrated into our lives. It should evolve with us, and not be submitted to changing its path or direction due to trends, other opportunities, or short term economic and political interests.
By preaching the value of IMTA (Integrated Multi-trophic Aquaculture) and putting into practice diverse initiatives with these systems, we can highlight the leading role that cultivating macroalgae is an indispensable link, as algae are the primary producers that close the circle in these mini-ecosystems. What we do is turn the “waste” from animal farming into “resources” for growing algae, making aquaculture more productive, diverse and environmentally friendly.
´Ordinary´ citizens can look for more information as regards to the exploitation, production, processing and distribution of the fish we eat, rejecting those that do not satisfy a minimum of their own sustainability criteria, while supporting with their choices those that, within the scope of their own possibilities, do explicitly meet them. This is easier nowadays as there are a series of labelling and certification schemes available for many products.
My inspirational story is my collaboration with the company Porto-Muiños, to develop the cultivation of the edible brown alga “sugar kombu” (Saccharina latissima) in Ría de Ares y Betanzos (A Coruña, Galicia, Spain), by the side of mussel platforms and fish pens. It illustrated a real commitment to sustainability as, on top of being an integrated system with improved productivity, diversification and sustainability benefits, it allowed us to reduce the pressure from harvesting natural populations of this alga, which has a big importance on the future of marine agronomy in the North Atlantic. This activity has also provoked the interest of other fish and mollusk producers, which will lead to the development of new and more ambitious joint ventures.