Knowledge transfer in the hatchery sector
Knowledge transfer is a problem in the aquaculture industry and presents an enormous opportunity for individuals and organizations to explore, writes Diogo Thomaz
Finfish and shrimp hatcheries deal with some of the most complicated life-cycle phases of any farmed organism and this poses a challenge that can only be successfully met with the right knowledge and experience.
Even for species such as salmon or catfish which have large eggs or a nutritious yolk sac the fry are extremely sensitive to environmental and pathological pressures. Succeeding in overcoming these stages with high survival and low deformities remains a challenge that requires know-how and the correct technologies.
The range of knowledge required goes from understanding water chemistry to biological requirements, nutrition, immunology, engineering of pumps, filters, tanks and pipes as well as having effective people management, project management and many other management skills.
Added to this we have constant information coming from universities and other research institutions and innovation in feeds and equipment that the supply sector outputs on a continuous basis.
Sources of knowledge
Although aquaculture is an ancient form of animal production until a few decades ago most farmers relied primarily on the natural production of fry to grow their crops. The first species where industrial production became possible through planned supply of fry were species such as trout, salmon, carp, tilapia or catfish, all having relatively simple spawning and larval rearing procedures.
Although research institutions played a role in the improvement of fry production for these species it was empirical work from pioneers that generated much of the knowledge required to get this industry off the ground.
With its development and growth, problems such as the need to select for faster growth and more resistant strains, or the increasing threat from disease and stress-related pathologies, required research institutions and private organizations such as feed and pharmaceutical companies to step up with new information and new products that improved productivity in hatcheries.
From the get-go marine fish and shrimp larvae were more reliant on knowledge generated from research institutions although hatchery technicians were responsible for many of the protocols used today, especially when it comes to large-scale production hatcheries. Here also the industry and especially nutrition companies have had a key role in the development of formulas and manufacturing technologies that allow for diets to be easily digested by very young larvae.
Having identified where hatchery production knowledge is created it is clear that there needs to be channels that transfer this knowledge to the hatcheries and specifically to managers and technicians producing fry and PLs.
Traditionally this transfer was made through technical and higher level academic institutions in the form of courses, degrees and post-graduates specializing in aquaculture and this is still an important channel, but it does not reach the vast majority of hatchery professionals.
Another important point of contact are visits from technical staff working for feed, equipment and pharma companies. These people often represent the main source of information about the latest technologies and developments in hatchery rearing. The training and information they provide for their customers is not only a good sales’ strategy but is also what keeps many hatchery staff up-to-date on the best production practices and technologies.
This transfer of knowledge is often made in meetings during aquaculture exhibitions but more frequently during customer visits. Some companies also produce extensive production manuals for hatcheries.
In today’s world, there are opportunities to transfer production know-how using technologies such as distance-learning courses, web or mobile-based training videos and other internet-related materials. Some universities are already using these technologies, but still only as part of their formal degrees.
Is this a real issue?
When you contact hatcheries around the world it’s easy to spot the unbalanced distribution of information on sometimes even the simplest aspects of production, such as stocking densities or feeding frequencies.
Many hatchery managers in isolated areas must rely on their own ingenuity and experience obtained through trial and error. Regions such as the Mediterranean have accumulated great expertise regarding larval rearing of marine species that could have helped cod hatcheries when they started in northern Europe or marine species today being produced in Asia, but this knowledge took many years to travel even short distances, at large cost to those who pioneer new species…
Knowledge transfer is therefore a true problem in our industry and, I believe, an enormous opportunity for individuals and organizations to explore, be it as a business or simply the desire to improve aquaculture across the globe.