Middle East Central Asian Aquaculture Conference a First for Turkey

10 June 2016, at 1:00am

TURKEY - Last week, an innovative conference of aquaculture professionals, academics and organizations met in Izmir, Turkey at the FuarIzmir convention centre from June 2-4, 2016. Innovative, as it is the first of its kind to connect important peers within the Middle Eastern and Central Asian region on the topic of aquaculture, food security, and biotechnology, writes Leigh Kroeger for TheFishSite.

The conference lasted two days, and gave several speakers the opportunity to consult, pitch, and promote their research to regional peers. Several times, participants voiced their surprise (and gratuity), that such a meeting had not been devised in previous years.

Turkey is, by far, the leader in aquaculture production and export for the region and should, naturally, lead the way in promotion of sustainable development of ‘Blue Growth’. The sessions were open to the public, and were joint-organized with the ‘Future of Fish EurAsia’ exhibition. This was a great addition to the experience, acting as a buffer and mutual compliment to the sector’s leading enterprises.

The conference focused on the concern for sustainability in all aspects of planning, implementing, and expanding aquaculture, both on and offshore. The sessions consisted of mainly Turkish academics, with presenters from USA, Israel, Pakistan and Greece making the journey to promote their country’s product and/or research.

The sessions ranged from a summary of the regional aquaculture progress, to industry opportunities, sustainability, biotechnology and fish culture and feeding technology. Presenters introduced new methods and analyses of integrated multi-trophic systems, estimations of consumer confidence, and enhancement of fish meal formulas.

The first session introduced invited keynote speaker, Mr Thomas Moth-Poulsen, to provide an overview of the activities of fisheries and aquaculture commission in central Asia. Mr. Moth-Poulsen, who is retiring this year, gave an excellent review of development in this region from 2009-2014.

The FAO’s aim was to determine Regional Fishery Bodies and establish a network of communication to ensure sustainable objectives. The most important outcome, was the establishment of the Central Asian and Caucasus Fisheries and Aquaculture Commission (CACFish), as an overall regional collaborative effort.

The five member states consist of: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkey. Its aim is to ‘ensure that the living aquatic resources are sustainably developed.’

Another invited speaker, Dr Tekinay from Izmir Katip Çelebi University, immediately followed and focused on sustainability in relation to feed and feeding quality. He introduced the justification for a production increase of 120 M tons by 2030 (as stated by FAO, 2013), as the feed conversion ratio for fish production is low, as well as the benefits of fish consumption to the public. Combating the use of fish oil for essential Omega-3 acids is a major hurdle, with plant proteins, yeast and bacterial proteins being considered for use instead. However, limiting high fiber content of these ‘vegan fish meals’, and contending with low digestibility rates by the fish are prioritized.

Presenter Dr Özgür Altan of Ege University took a turn to discuss the geopolitical history of Central Asian fisheries. The collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s saw Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan become independent. Along with this designation, capture fisheries and aquaculture declined dramatically, and the Central Asia Regional Programme for Fisheries and Aquaculture Development (FISHDEV-Central Asia) faced these challenges and orchestrated development, and promoted new infrastructure to the fledgling states’ economies.

A following appearance by Hülya Saygi from Ege University concluded that, due to FAO statistical data from 1950-2014, aquaculture production from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan would end very soon, as it was not economically viable. Currently, 859.325 tonnes are produced in Central Asia, and 4,412,936 tonnes in the Middle East. However, production is too low in Kuwait, Syria and Libya to be deemed feasible.

The second day was more generally focused on biotechnology and genetic selection of fish species, including the introduction of integrated multi-trophic aquaculture (IMTA) systems in Turkey. Although simplistic, the polyculture includes sea cucumbers, mainly for export to Asian countries as luxury produce. Their feeding activity has many benefits to the benthic recycling system as deposit-feeding organisms capable of ingesting most organic matter from the plants or animals living on the benthic substrate. Their production increased six-fold from 2003-2014, however, production estimates were erratic, achieving stability in the sector only in the last 5 years.

The conference was mainly geared to coastal offshore aquaculture production, as the majority of Turkish enterprise is off the coasts of Didim, Bodrum and Izmir.

The organizers, Dr Türkur Bodur and Associate Professor Dr Özgür Altan, expressed their wishes for an annual conference. As only one presenter from Israel was able and interested in submitting an abstract, focusing on sustainable governance of offshore development in finfish aquaculture, they commented that extended insights and presentations from more Middle Eastern countries, and Central Asian researchers, were welcomed in future.