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Aquaculture 2016 blog: How can the industry best battle bad press?

IntraFish's Avani Nadkarni is blogging live from the Aquaculture 2016 event at the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas. Check back here to get the latest news from the showfloor and the sessions.

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Thursday, Feb. 25, 12 p.m. PST

New generation, new rules

Perhaps unlike their parents and grandparents, "Generation Z and the Millennials are going to require sustainability," said famed Chef Rick Moonen, who owns RM Seafood in Las Vegas. "They're going to require that their food is healthy. They're going to need information."

And who better to give that information than trusted chefs, said Moonen, who is now the brand ambassador for Cooke Aquaculture's True North Salmon.

Moonen recalled getting his first shipment of farmed Atlantic salmon in the 1980s and loving it.

"It was our sliced white bread in the hospitality industry," he said.

Then aquaculture became more prevalent and Moonen's industry became "cocky" and refused to feature farmed salmon. Other aquaculture products began trickling in, such as catfish and tilapia, but the quality was decreasing. The idea now, he said, is to show people how much aquaculture has improved.

"Statistics aren't going to change anyone, it's the story," he said. "They consumer wants to be able to connect, they want to eat fish. They know it's good for the brain, the heart, that it's healthier. But they don't know where to go, that's why branding is brilliant. Jeremy [Dunn, from the previous blog entry] couldn't say it better. Be open, honest, transparent, tell the truth, get chefs to embrace it."

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Thursday, Feb. 25, 11:10 a.m. PST

How to handle the media

British Columbia Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) Executive Director Jeremy Dunn is a former journalist, and he said he's trying to change the way the media sees salmon farming.

"The reporters hold the pen at the end of the day, even if you don't like what they're writing," Dunn said during a overflowing Building Social Acceptance through Innovative Communication session. "You're trying to get them to write a story that's in your favor not against you."

After years of the British Columbia aquaculture industry trying to fight the media, who in turn wrote negative story after negative story, Dunn invited 15 members of the Vancouver media to a Marine Harvest farm at Campbell River.

"We spent time on the farm not to try to turn a story but to build a relationship," he said. "The relationship you build with someone on a boat ride to a farm is probably the best relationship you can build."

In late 2015, the BCSFA put out a sustainability progress report, and again, the association was transparent.

"Not everything [in it] was rosy because not everything in the industry is perfect," he said. "It was open and honest."

The good news? There was only one negative and inaccurate article on the report, from a trade publication, versus more than a dozen positive ones.

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Thursday, Feb. 25, 10:30 a.m. PST

Making algae easier

Reed Mariculture, the California-based largest producer of marine microalgae concentrates, has the perfect solution for finfish, shellfish and shrimp farmers -- we'll provide the algae, you just raise your seafood.

"It's changed research and development," Founder Tim Reed told IntraFish. "If they can just grow their animals and get their algae from us, it increases the potential to do more."

Reed's Eric Henry added that he was at a shellfish conference recently when farmers he had never met came to shake his hand "and they said 'thank you, you changed the way I run my hatchery.'"

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Thursday, Feb. 25, 10 a.m. PST

A more efficient paddlewheel

Israeli company 02 Waterator is developing a water-powered aerator, which utilizes a much more efficient paddlewheel that most, the company's Roy Brosh told IntraFish at its booth.

The venture, which is part of the Hutchinson-Kinrot portfolio, is "tackling the most problematic aspect of paddlewheels," Brosh said. Generally about 60 percent of the energy is wasted on paddlewheel-based aerators because of the drag; the Waterator model eliminates drag so 100 percent of the energy goes to dispensing water.

In addition, the fully-plastic model is much lighter and it dispenses 5 meters/second of outflow, what Brosh says is "about 20 percent more than other paddlewheels." The lifetime is three to four years, nearly double other similar systems, he concluded.

Brosh hopes to finalize the research and development and start testing "in real life" next month, and hopes to have 10 of the models by the end of 2016.

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Thursday, Feb. 25, 9:30 a.m. PST

Nutrinsic branches out from beer

Last year at Aquaculture America in New Orleans, US sustainable protein company Nutrinsic touted an innovative new feed ingredient: beer waste.

The company created ProFloc from the byproduct of large breweries then, and this year it's touting a newer innovation -- byproduct, specifically condensed syrup, from ethanol, which Nutrinsic's Meagan Wairama told IntraFish can yield five times more protein.

The company is still looking to partner with breweries but is also on the search for ethanol companies.

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Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2:30 p.m. PST

BrioBiotech 'hustling' to find solutions

Tom Allnutt has been in the aquaculture industry for a while, but finally decided to branch out and start his own company wasn't easy.

That's why he named it BrioBiotech -- "brio" means "hustle" in Italian, he told IntraFish.

The company aims to find "a more efficient delivery system" of nutraceuticals, vaccines and therapeutics, particularly to farmed fish. He's nabbed a six-month NSF grant, during which he's reaching out to the industry and seeing how the solutions will be welcomed.

During the time, he's working on a trial in rainbow trout, monitoring the fish and seeing responses.

"We need good data," he said.

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Wednesday, Feb. 24, 12 p.m. PST

Hawaii park is perfect 'HOST'

The Hawaii Ocean and Science Technology Park (HOST) serves as an outdoor demo space for technology credited in labs elsewhere, thanks to its "unique combination of resources," said Laurence Sombardier of the park.

"We help the companies navigate from the lab" to real life situations, she added.

That could be the reason that HOST counts some big names, such as Taylor Shellfish and Trident Seafoods' Big Island Abalone, as clients. Sombardier was also careful to note that, while it is a state organization, it is self-sustaining.

"We believe performing and thinking like a business is critical to long-term viability of the park," she said.

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Wednesday, Feb. 24, 11 a.m. PST

California company has water oxygen solution

When Kristin Elliott's father founded Precision Measurement Engineering (PME) 34 years ago, aquaculture wasn't his target business -- but the family soon realized otherwise.

"We're finding out that our oxygen sensor is so low-powered that it's ideal for aquaculture," Elliott told IntraFish. "We're trying to understand what [the industry's] needs are."

The company had its C-Sense Logger, which collects temperature and partial pressure of gas in liquids and stores them internally; plant managers can upload them to a computer via a USB later. The entire thing runs on just two small batteries all year, Elliott said.

After consulting with some fish farmers, PME fine-tuned the LCD miniDOT, a submersible water logger that measures dissolved oxygen, but also has a real-time viewer so plant managers can see the water levels at any time.

"They can look at how it's changing overnight," she said.

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Wednesday, Feb. 24, 9:35 a.m. PST

California breaking into marine aquaculture

NOAA Regional Aquaculture Director for California said "we live in a state that's got very strong conservation values and laws and ... is very process heavy."

She and her colleagues are "trying to provide leadership and development of marine aquaculture" through regulation, policy and science, she said.

"We're learning how to make an existing process that's cumbersome and complex fit for marine aquaculture," Windham said. "We're trying to be proactive and put out accurate information instead of reacting to negative information."

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Wednesday, Feb. 24, 9:30 a.m. PST

By the numbers

NOAA's Diane Windham, who is the regional aquaculture coordinator for California, put into perspective numbers that most in the aquaculture industry know.

Out of all the seafood consumed in the United States, a meager 2.5 percent is US farmed, 6.5 percent is US wild-caught, 45 percent is imported wild caught and 46 percent is imported and farmed.

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Wednesday, Feb. 24, 9 a.m. PST

Offshore aqua: Celebrating successes

Offshore aquaculture in the US has had some good news this year, said Kampachi Farms Co-CEO Neil Sims.

"Let's celebrate our successes," he told the audience at the offshore aquaculture session.

Firstly, a final rule was "finally" adopted for the Gulf of Mexico, albeit with some restrictions. The duration of the permit is 10 years, with a production cap of 27,000 tons per year. The permits also exclude all fishing around farm sites and potential oil and gas sites are prioritized.

In addition, the offshore aquaculture permit process in Maine has been slashed from four years to six months and in Hawaii, Blue Ocean Mariculture's expansion was approved and "there was not a single person who spoke at a public hearing in objection to this expansion."

"There's just a broader recognition of offshore aquaculture," Sims said.

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Wednesday, Feb. 24, 8:30 a.m. PST

More disappointment for organic aqua supporters

About 50 people gathered for an organic aquaculture workshop at the event were in for some "disappointing news," said longtime organic aquaculture advocate George Lockwood.

After going through several processes, a proposal was set to be finalized by early November 2015. Three months later, still nothing. Instead of approving it, the US Office of Management and Budget (OMB) sent the entire proposal back to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to make changes.

"We were told we could expect to see it by the end of the year," Lockwood said. "For seven years, we've been told we would see it by the end of the year. I've been working on this since 1999. No one is more disappointed than I am."

"It will probably be, at the very earliest, the end of this year by the time we see something published," he concluded. "My personal opinion is that we won't see anything until we have a new [presidential] administration."

The workshop's intended purpose was to help the industry understand the proposal, but with no proposal, it was cancelled.

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Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2:30 p.m. PST

How do we eliminate the US' 'massive aquaculture trade deficit?'

Aquaculture investor Phil Fitzpatrick asked the panel of 11 US government agency representatives on the Federal Town Hall panel what efforts are being made to reduce the country's "massive trade deficit" when it comes to aquaculture.

"The foundation of how we address this is research," said Gene Kim, from the USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). Innovation and research grants from NOAA and USDA have specific sections for aquaculture, he said. 

NOAA's Director of Aquaculture Michael Rubino went another way: loans.

"Loans, loan guarantees, risk insurance, the fishery finance program at NOAA Fisheries," Rubino said. "There are also efforts around the country to set up revolving funds, mostly for small to medium-size businesses for aquaculture and I think we'll see more of those."

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Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2:15 p.m. PST

Producers need to 'beat the drum' for regulations

Responding to a Federal Town Hall question from Troutlodge's Jim Parsons, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA)'s Lee Ann Thomas urged US aquaculture producers to "beat the drum about getting additional funding for [regulatory programs]."

"We are planning on starting small," she said. "If you are a producer and interested, we're interested in talking with you."

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Tuesday, Feb. 23, 12:15 p.m. PST

A new way to finance aquaculture

US aquaculture companies are eager to get into Latin America, but are often apprehensive, said Anthem Bank and Trust Executive Trade and Finance Manager Eric Guevara.

That's where Anthem comes in -- the bank finances short-term credits only, 180 days at the most. Their primary foray into aquaculture, which Guevara said is about 20 or 30 percent of their total business, is grains and other feed ingredients.

"Latin America is big business for the US, but they are nervous," he said. "We take on that risk. Feed companies here have a lot of capital expenditures, a lot of working capital goes to produce, but raw materials need to be financed, too."

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Tuesday, Feb. 23, 11:30 a.m. PST

What is the 'grand daddy' of algae?

That would be macroalgae, said Algae Biomass Organization Executive Director Matt Carr.

Macroalgae is "the grand daddy of algae applications for human and animal food worldwide, but here in the US it's relatively unknown," he said. "Even if you go to Whole Foods, you'll be hard-pressed to find macroalgae as an ingredient."

That could change -- and quickly.

"It is trending as a health food."

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Tuesday, Feb. 23, 11:20 a.m. PST

Necessity for algae is driving innovation

While the early pioneers of utilizing algae for animal feed, such as Earthrise Nutritionals and DSM began in the mid 1980s, "the new era of investment really started in 2009" when $100 million of the US economic stimulus funds was dedicated for three integrated algae biorefinery projects, said Algae Biomass Organization Executive Director Matt Carr. Then came bigtime investments by major oil refiners.

"Suddenly the mood soured on biofuels, there are [government] efforts launched to repeal federal biofuels mandate ... suddenly, the biofuels market looks even more challenging than it already was. Luckily, that necessity has driven innovation."

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Tuesday, Feb. 23, 11 a.m. PST

Seaweed boom

There are 12 million tons of seaweed being produced in the world annually, mostly from Asian nations such as the main powerhouse, China, the Philippines and Japan, said MicroBio Engineering CEO John Bennemann.

This nets a value of $5 billion for human consumption, for foods such as nori, which are growing in popularity.

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Tuesday, Feb. 23, 10 a.m. PST

Bonjour from Las Vegas

Aquaculture 2016, held at the Paris Hotel, is different from most Aquaculture America conferences -- it's a three-pronged meeting, a partnership between the World Aquaculture Society (WAS), the National Shellfisheries Association, the Fish Culture Section of the American Fisheries Society and the National Aquaculture Association (NAA).

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