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Acuiplus: competitiveness, sustainability and innovation

Eight years ago, a small group of aquaculture-related companies came up with the idea of setting up a cluster to cooperate with each other and address the challenges facing the sector. Their idea was to promote the competitiveness and sustainability of an industry that is crucial to ensure global food security. Today, Acuiplus has 28 members and is a reference in both commercial and research and innovation processes. We talked about all this with Yolanda Morales, Acuiplus Cluster Manager. 

How did the idea of setting up the cluster come about?

The cluster arose as an initiative of a group of companies representing the aquaculture value chain in Catalonia, with the support of the Institute of Food Research and Technology (IRTA). All of them wanted to develop a meeting place where aquaculture service providers could share the challenges of the market, strengthen their internationalization capacity and increase competitiveness levels. And as soon as the cluster was created, in 2014, it began to attract new members from different geographical areas of Spain.

What are the sector’s needs?

The challenges facing the aquaculture sector are many, but we can classify them into four main groups: environmental, social, economic-productive and governance.

The first of these groups has to do with the development and adoption of good environmental practices and adaptation to climate change. Here we highlight the effort in research to preserve animal welfare, together with new feeding methods. And an optimization of the use of natural resources. But also internationalization and the opening of new markets.

Regarding the social sphere, we pursue a greater professionalization of the sector through the reinforcement of training programs close to the needs of the companies. This is one of the major issues on which we need to work together in the coming years between academic institutions, the sector and the public administration.

In the economic field, we need greater efforts along the lines of those already being made to raise awareness and promote aquaculture products. And to strengthen the role of the sector’s value chain.

And finally, in terms of governance, we need policies adapted to the sector and its needs. These must evolve at the same pace as the sector, in order to be able to develop new species and new production systems. We also refer to access to licenses.

What challenges does the industry face?

In line with the above, we can refer to consumers, who increasingly demand more sustainable products; to the effects of climate change; to technological development applied to aquaculture optimization processes; and, undoubtedly, to attracting talent.

What role can aquaculture play in food security?

As stated in FAO’s SOFIA Report “we recognize that the health of our world, as well as our own future health and food security, depend on how we treat this blue planet”. Aquaculture invests and works tirelessly in the development of healthy and highly nutritious products. The reduction of fish from extractive activities will undoubtedly be replaced by aquaculture.

What impact does aquaculture activity have on the value chain?

From a general perspective, aquaculture is a sector in constant innovation and highly technological, working on the development of a well-formed strategy along the entire value chain.

However, this trend of a solid and structured value chain, which is very important for the growth of the sector, does not have the visibility it requires, even though it is a key factor for the success of production.

How can we make aquaculture a sustainable activity?

We consider sustainability not as an end in itself, but as a path to which we must constantly adapt. And to do so through measures with less environmental impact, by creating professionalized employment, managing resources correctly and developing a competitive economic activity.

Where is the feed industry moving towards?

This is an issue closely linked to food safety. Lately, the use of synthetic antioxidants in feed has been regulated and restricted. So there is an increasing interest in products with antioxidants of natural origin.

The use of new sustainable raw materials in aquafeeds is now a priority in view of the increasing demand for new alternative sources of nutrition and protein. Always maintaining or improving the overall condition of the animal, its immune response and the quality of the fish fillet from the consumer’s point of view.

Which markets are emerging most strongly?

Currently, aquaculture activity is developing at a global level. But from the perspective of the services offered by the value chain, we can mention emerging markets such as Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, the Middle East, and also Central America, India or Vietnam, among others.

What projects is Acuiplus currently involved in?

Acuiplus is currently involved in 2 projects. The most recent one is Acuisost, which is focused on the use of nutritional strategies for a more resilient and sustainable aquaculture. Acuisost promotes aquaculture sustainability through the use of nutritional strategies based on feed formulation with new ingredients and technological additives. It is a project financed with NextGenerationEU funds under the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan (PRTR), through the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

The other project is REDAQUA, which seeks to strengthen networking, professionalization and training in the field of aquaculture. All this through innovation and knowledge transfer. The objective of the network is to strengthen and promote cooperation, the transfer of experiences and collaboration between the scientific community, training centers and the business sector. It aims to influence training, research and innovation to strengthen the competitiveness of the sector around sustainable aquaculture. It is included in the Call for the Promotion and Encouragement of Fisheries and Aquaculture Sustainability. Within the framework of the Programa Pleamar Program through the Biodiversity Foundation.

But beyond specific projects, financed with external funds, ACUIPLUS is committed to its own projects. For example, the well-known conferences “Let’s talk about Aquaculture”, which we carry out periodically as discussion forums on relevant topics. Or the internal projects with our partners to strengthen internationalization, as well as measures to ensure the sustainability of the value chain.

At the same time, Acuiplus chairs the EATIP Cluster Platform, supporting the stimulation of joint actions at European level.

Which technology sectors can help implement profitable and sustainable aquaculture?

The technology sector offers a huge contribution to the sustainability of aquaculture. Not only with the integration of new technologies that result in a better use of space and resources. But also with the high technological specialization, which is a key factor for the modernization of the sector. The development of autonomous fish feeding systems, the monitoring of water parameters, or low consumption platforms, many of them powered by renewable energies, are some of the initiatives that promote profitable and sustainable aquaculture. And their development is only possible thanks to the technology sector.