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Editorial: Risk management in the coronavirus era

March 11, 2020  By Mari-Len De Guzman

(Mongkolchon/Adobe Stock)

The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak continues to spread across the globe, killing more than 5,000 and infecting nearly 140,000 worldwide. The toll of this deadly virus has transcended the health care realm and manifested into the global economy – leaving investors uneasy, the stock market plummeting, the manufacturing industry disrupted, supply chains broken, billions of dollars in losses to the travel industry, and putting thousands of jobs at risk.

Nineteenth century Austrian diplomat Klemens von Metternich popularized the phrase, “When France sneezes, Europe catches a cold.” This statement is eerily true today, with slightly different players and on a bigger scale. If anything, COVID-19 has shown how our world has become smaller. Technological advancements have allowed countries to easily participate in the global economy, with varying time zones and thousand-mile distances no longer serving as barriers. But it comes as a double-edged sword. “When China sneezes, the whole world catches a cold.”

The effects of this global pandemic to the aquaculture industry are yet to be quantified, but one can surmise it will be considerable. In the U.S., for instance, more than 80 percent of seafood are imported – many of them from countries that have slowed production as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. Production cycles are disrupted as seafood producers and processors in China and other affected countries deal with labour shortages. Shipping and transportation systems are also greatly affected.

As much as it has become easier to do business with the world, companies have also become susceptible to the negative impacts of major global phenomena – wars and conflicts, natural disasters, communicable disease outbreaks and global pandemics.

The ripple effects of these global events are certainly making another strong case for increasing domestic production to reduce reliance on seafood imports. Situating close to markets and producing in controlled, bio secure environments are the biggest strengths of aquaculture in general, and RAS operations in particular.

Its potential for addressing some of today’s food supply challenges as well as promoting a more sustainable way of producing food without causing increased stress to our natural resources are why we should be rooting for aquaculture and RAS to succeed.

In previous editorials, I have talked about resiliency in the industry. Risks, whether man-made or natural, are always going to be present. The best-run companies recognize this and are well-prepared with effective, properly tested contingency plans. The same is true for RAS operators.

For all its great potential, RAS – as with other technologies – does not come without risks. The key is the ability to better manage those risks. It’s difficult to mitigate risks that are brought about by a natural disaster or global phenomenon. Reducing the potential adverse effects to the business bottom-line of those natural disasters beyond human control is where RAS makes a difference. Growing fish in land-based, closed containment systems increases the chances for fish survival.

It does not eliminate all potential risks, however. There are still the usual human errors and systems failures that can affect any production system – whether land-based, net pens or off-shore. But these are risks that can be averted, controlled and corrected.

We are certainly hoping that this global pandemic will soon be contained. In the meantime, contingency measures to ensure business continuity or to minimize adverse effects should be our priority.

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