Dr. Alejandro Bernal, Executive Vice President and Group President, Strategy, Commercial and Business Development shares an editorial about future opportunities in aquaculture.

I recently joined my colleague Morten Nordstad, President of Zoetis’ PHARMAQ business, and more than 100 leaders from the aquaculture sector for the first Aquaculture Innovation Summit in London.  The Summit focused on showcasing and supporting innovation and sustainability initiatives in three key areas of aquaculture: farm management, nutrition and health. I had the honor of opening the summit and the challenge of delivering thought-provoking ideas about the profitable future of aquaculture amidst rapid growth.  

Farmed fish is one of the fastest growing species in terms of consumption. Likewise, innovation in the aquaculture and aquatic health sector that serves it is keeping pace. I have long had an interest in aquaculture since I began my training as a veterinarian, and over the past two years I was responsible for the PHARMAQ business which became part of Zoetis in 2015.  

As I thought about this presentation, it struck me this sector shares many challenges and opportunities in common with the livestock industry. Both share similar risks that affect yields such as the impact of extreme weather events, disease outbreaks, breeding problems, and pests. They also share opportunities that will stem from three main imperatives:

  1. Sustainable improvements in productivity,
  2. Increased emphasis on disease prevention, and
  3. Rapid adoption of new production technologies.

Sustainable Improvements in Productivity

The animal health industry has helped livestock agriculture achieve significant yield improvements in dairy, egg and poultry production through advances in nutrition, genetics, vaccination protocols and therapeutics over the last four decades. Given the central role that aquaculture plays in feeding the world and future projections for consumption growth, aquaculture industry leaders must strive to achieve continuous productivity improvements through innovation.  

Just like in the livestock industry, today’s consumers are having an ever-greater impact on innovation.  They are more connected and informed and seek to understand how their food was produced. They are giving preference to food raised deploying sustainable and environmentally acceptable solutions, including not only medicines and vaccines, but a combination of solutions and technologies that help better predict, prevent and detect disease early. We can also expect a continued high level of scrutiny from consumers, regulators, and media of production practices.  

Disease Prevention & Rapid Adoption of New Production Technologies

I am very much convinced that the sustainable future of livestock and fish production will depend on integrating many different solutions and technologies that help producers make early and accurate decisions. They will need to be more proactive when it comes to optimizing the performance of their herds, so they can produce more food with fewer resources.  

This means increased use of vaccines to prevent diseases along with automation systems that allow efficient mass vaccination at farm level. In poultry, for example, we have seen that the appropriate use of in ovo injection machines like our EMBREX® Inovoject® technology have brought improved efficiency to hatchery operations and reduced mortality to poultry farms. Similarly, we see these trends in aquaculture where the use of sophisticated vaccination machines and services, such as that offered by Nordland Sett Vaks which was acquired by PHARMAQ, promise to enhance the uptake of vaccines and reduce fish mortalities.  

It also means testing new precision farming practices and health protocols that leverage diagnostic tools and are informed by information from genetic tests, digital products and data analytics. It also includes targeted use of medicines to treat sick animals, help restore animals to health and generate feed efficiencies. 

I firmly believe that aquaculture can take advantage of these lessons from livestock production to create a profitable and sustainable future. Companies like Zoetis, with a worldwide infrastructure, global capabilities, and investments in innovation will be able to deliver solutions to address these opportunities to our customers. I am confident we are in a position to apply the lessons we are learning in livestock production and hasten their application to the aquatic health sector.