The twelfth meeting of NACA’s Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) was held in the coastal town of Cha-am, Thailand from 9-12 March, approximately two hours’ drive south of Bangkok. The meeting was attended by participants from sixteen NACA member states, the Regional Lead Centres for China, India, the Philippines and Thailand and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
The TAC meets every two years to review NACA’s rolling work programme and propose amendments to realign it with the current needs of member governments and to account for new and emerging issues. In proposing changes, the TAC prioritises issues of common concern to multiple member governments where there are good prospects for regional collaboration. The NACA Secretariat uses the output to revise the work programme, which is submitted to the next meeting of the NACA Governing Council for consideration and adoption.
While there are many ‘persistent’ issues of ongoing interest to the region such as nutrition and environmental impact this years’ meeting saw several shifts in regional priorities.
Food safety and related certification and traceability issues are heating up with regards to international trade. Labour conditions, including for undocumented and migrant workers, are becoming a hot topic as major export markets are increasingly taking an interest in the conditions under which food is produced. Tough new legislation to address illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is likely to have traceability implications for the aquaculture industry, which will need to be able to demonstrate that its products have been farmed rather than fished, in order to avoid potential restrictions on trade.
Fish seed quality and availability was another standout issue. Given the near-absent genetic management of broodstock in hatcheries in the region it is not surprising that concerns about genetic degradation of broodstock, and as a consequence the quality of seed, are mounting. There is significant interest in selective breeding for the development of genetically improved varieties of important cultured species, but the general lack of capacity in broodstock management is a significant barrier to both developing and maintaining such lines.
Aquatic animal health remains a burning issue for the aquaculture industry with no letup in sight as far as the emergence of new pathogens is concerned. However, the TAC felt that it would be wise to invest more effort into the proactive management of health issues, such as through improving disease surveillance and early warning systems, biosecurity and quarantine, laboratory capacity and investment in vaccines and better management practices as alternatives to the use of veterinary chemicals. It is well established that prevention or early containment of a disease outbreak is massively cheaper than responding after it has been given a chance to spread.
The environment, feeds and nutrition are core issues that are discussed at every TAC meeting, but the effect of environmental quality on aquaculture is gaining prominence. Pollution from external urban and agro-industrial sources and water quality degradation is increasingly causing problems for the aquaculture industry, notably in inland areas. For example cages installed in river systems suffering fish kills as a result of the release of industrial effluent upstream, which is driving a move into land-based pond systems in some countries. Assessments of carrying capacity and zoning of areas for aquaculture use are as-yet underutilised partial solutions worthy of wider investigation. Feed costs have risen heavily as the price of ingredients has escalated. Some countries such as Lao PDR and Sri Lanka are still heavily dependent on importation of commercial feeds as quality, locally made feeds are unavailable.
Other issues discussed included gender mainstreaming, a new area of work for NACA and a high priority for many member states, the potential impacts of climate change, integrated multi-trophic aquaculture and technology transfer between different administrative units of government (national, provincial) and at the regional level were also discussed.
As TAC members are usually also high-level officials from research centres participating in the network, the meeting also provides a good opportunity to discuss implementation of the work programme by the people at the coal face. The final half day of the meeting was spent drawing up a number of joint project concepts of broad regional interest on sustainable farming systems, aquatic animal health, genetics and biodiversity, climate change and south-south cooperation in aquaculture development.
The NACA work programme is currently undergoing revision and will be considered at the 26th Governing Council Meeting, which will be held in Bali, Indonesia, in May. The final document will be published on the NACA website shortly thereafter.