As a PhD student at the Marine Sciences Department stationed at the field station in Tjärnö I`m involved the first attempts to cultivate seaweeds (kelp) at the Swedish west coast. The aim of my thesis is to farm in a sustainable way with as little as possible effect on the environment, without loosing sight of future commercial interests.
During a conference in Copenhagen I talked to professor Shaojun Pang about selective breeding of kelp and some of its difficulties in Qingdao China. Since seaweed farming is the fastest growing sector of global aquaculture, and China the largest producer of algal products in the world. It is nothing but logic many Chinese resources are located to genetic improvement. This has led to the commercially farming of a set of elite varieties with increased yield properties of 37 000 hectares, producing one million tons of air-dried kelp annually.
Back in Tjärnö I realized that a visit to professor Pang’s lab would be a great learning opportunity and a start of bridging the knowledge gap. Two months after contacting him I was on a plane on my way to Qingdao; the place to be for large scale aquaculture. I was welcomed with open arms, had access and help with basically every question I had.
Professor Pangs` successful research strategy combines fundamental research with a strong applied influence from the industry. Working together with some of the world largest commercial Kelp companies. With one hand producing research papers, with the other developing new genetic varieties. While visiting one of the endless fields of buoys and algae, I realized that scale matters. For research however, larger is not always better. This sounds trivial, but confronted with the Chinese scale of aquaculture it was an eye opener. The trick is to downscale in a laboratory setting, and involve the industry when scaling things up.
Interestingly, most companies use low-tech cultivation methods and combine different types of aquaculture to reduce costs. For example, by sharing land based hatchery facilities for raising Kelp seedlings, larval development of Sea Urchin, Abalone and Sea Cucumber.
After two months I left Qingdao with a suitcase full of research ideas. But most of all, it was great to experience that aquaculture can be so intertwined with daily eating habits. It is not a question how, but when the ‘western’ world adapts new cultivated marine species on our menu.
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