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Nobody knows who the hell you are

Mystery is hardly the keyword in investors' handbooks.

I have something to admit to my colleagues.

I began a recent presentation at The Economist World Ocean Summit with the words; “The population is expected to reach 9.7 billion human beings by 2050 and will require unprecedented levels of food production and security.”

Gulp.

I know, I know. It is not something I am proud of, and I feel I need to explain.

But first, context. You see -- and I apologize in advance to the 153 seafood execs who have used the same phrase in their seafood conference presentation this year -- it is a running joke in the Intrafish editorial department that this statement is still somehow deemed newsworthy.

We mouth faux gasps whenever the words are uttered and occasionally throw it into articles to see if an eagle-eyed editor will remove it.

It is not that it’s not important, it’s just that by now I think it is fair to say that everyone who has ever worked in the seafood industry pretty much has that adage tattooed on their brain.

What I was counting on in the context of the World Ocean Summit however, was that people outside the industry did not.

And my God, was I right.

In fact as it turns out, not only does the rest of the world not understand the aquaculture industry’s raison d’etre, they DO NOT KNOW WHO THE HELL YOU ARE.

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I’m serious. They barely understand you exist.

“Farming fish, huh? Interesting. Is that a new thing?” (I’m not even joking).

Now fishing, oh, fishing they get. Boats, splashing, men in sowesters. This is a concept they understand and discuss, but aquaculture, the seafood production method that now accounts for more than half of human seafood consumption worldwide (yes, I used that too):  Blank faces. Crickets chirping. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

Despite not having a huge directly related audience, the fishing sector was mentioned frequently at The World Ocean Summit. Challenges were raised; sustainability concepts rewarded and new technology launched.

The audience of NGOs, government representatives, large corporates, environmental innovators and a broad range of investors, nodded along and made pensive mumblings at the mentions of overfishing, of improvements in catching methods and efforts towards sustainablility.

Aquaculture, on the other hand, was mentioned a handful times in the two days of plenary sessions: once in passing by a Cargill representative sat on a shipping panel, a couple of times by XL Catlin's Paul Jardine and by Ana Paula Vitorino, the minister for the sea of Portugal, whose appreciation of its importance in European ocean discussions stood as a lone voice in a sea of microbeads (sorry).

The break out session in which I spoke alongside Thai Union’s Darian McBain; Arni Mathiesen from the FAO, Calysta’s Alan Shaw and Blake Ratner from WorldFish, was obviously a little more attuned to the topic, but even then much of the discussion was around aquaculture as a sort of supplementary industry, there as more of a sustainer of developing world employment than an international, professionalized business.

When asked for a takeaway from the two hour session by The Economist moderator I noted that the knowledge gap, both inside and outside the industry, needs desperately to be bridged.

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The other panelists agreed, calling for better information exchange within the industry.

But it needs to go further.

Myself and my colleagues have devoted many IntraFish opinion pieces to the need for the industry to market itself and to sell its sustainability credentials to a wider audience. But I now realize how much more basic the approach needs to be.

If aquaculture is to be recognized outside of its niche circle of investors, it needs more than the odd article on a 'revolutionary' new feed made of flies. This is going to take an information assault.

Call up the papers. Invite them to your farm. Tell them the story. Tell them there's improvements to be made, but tell them what you do and why it's important.

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Stop selling yourself on novelty-value. Crazy (disgusting) spiced tilapia puddings and the small-scale producer farming a tuna-minnow hybrid in a shed are great click-bait, but they do nothing to explain the basic need for the industry and the very real challenges it faces.

Speak outside of seafood industry events. You may not see the immediate benefit of attending an event on ocean policies or seal conservation, but other ocean stakeholders need to know who you are and to understand that aquaculture at the most basic level is a very viable, already successful industry, business and food producer.

I was shocked, attending World Ocean Summit, even as a mere industry commentator how internalized my views and perspective had become. While I know aquaculture isn't a dinner party talking point in most households outside of Norway, I had certainly assumed a level of knowledge amongst other ocean stakeholders.

I was wrong. And so are you if you think aquaculture is on anyone’s agenda but your own.

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