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Biofloc Pioneer Calls For More Education, Research
December, 2013

Editor’s note: The following column is the first in a series of leadership-themed columns written by GAA Communications Manager Steven Hedlund for the Global Aquaculture Adovate. The column profiles aquaculture and seafood professionals whose leadership and sense of innovation, education and communication set them apart. This article will appear in the January-February edition of the Advocate.

At the World Aquaculture Society’s Asia Pacific Aquaculture 2013 conference in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, in December, an entire day of the three-day program was dedicated to biofloc technology. Thirteen scientists presented the latest research on biofloc technology, with presentations ranging from the effects of bacterial probiotics on a Pacific white shrimp culture system infected with Vibrio parahaemolyticus to the development of a factorial model for growth and feed management of cobia.

Chairing the discussion on biofloc technology was Yoram Avnimelech, Ph.D., a professor at Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel.

Avnimelech is one of the fathers of biofloc technology. His work on biofloc technology dates to the mid-1980s, when, as a water and soil scientist working on a project in the Sea of Galilee in Israel, he discovered that the nutrients from neighboring fish farms were seeping into and polluting the 167-square-kilometer freshwater lake. The study of the release of water from these fish farms lead to Avnimelech’s research biofloc technology.

“I sort of fell into aquaculture,” said Avnimelech in an interview from the Saigon Exhibition & Convention Center.

Twenty years after the first publication of Avnimelech’s research, biofloc technology is commonplace, particularly among shrimp and tilapia culture systems. Biofloc technology involves the recycling of nutrients in the water from feed. When water exchange is minimized in intensive farming systems with high stocking densities, the nutrients proliferate into a community of microscopic organisms large enough for shrimp or finfish to eat. These microorganisms detoxify waste products, primarily nutrients excreted by shrimp and finfish, and act as a source of food and resulting in reduced feed costs.

With biofloc technology, “farmers can increase profitability because less feed is used and less expensive feed can be used,” said Avnimelech. “It’s practical. A lot of large farms have good results with biofloc technology, especially shrimp farms and tilapia farms.

“A lot of farmers are working with biofloc,” he added. “But there’s no one way to do it. We’re still learning a lot. There’s a lot of evidence that biofloc technology gives some protection to shrimp and finfish, to fight against disease.”

Perhaps biofloc technology is garnering more attention as of late due to the prominence of early mortality syndrome (EMS), which has impaired shrimp production in Asia and recently spread into Mexico. Biofloc technology has been identified by researchers as one of the potential solutions.

“I’m very optimistic,” said Avnimelech. “We can use this technology to help farmers solve disease problems. There’s no one solution. But this is one. We will never eradicate all diseases.”

Avnimelech has written about the advantages of biofloc technology regularly in the pages of the Advocate. In the May-June 2011 edition, he wrote that it’s an environmentally friendly, cost-effective means to intensify tilapia production. And in the March-April 2012 edition, he wrote about the potential for using the natural enrichment of periphyton, algae and other biological sources of protein as a means to follow protein uptake in shrimp and finfish aquaculture.

The challenge now, said Avnimelech, is introducing biofloc technology to family farms through education.

“They often say that it’s biofloc, but it’s not being executed properly,” he explained. If properly applied, biofloc technology can increase production at a family farm by seven fold, said Avnimelech. But universities that teach aquaculture need to do a better job of incorporating biofloc technology into the curriculum. What’s being taught now at many universities “is not enough,” said Avnimelech. “Education is the answer.”

Added Avnimelech: “We need to set the stage and provide training for family farmers. This [Asia Pacific Aquaculture 2013] is the place for it.”

Avnimelech also address the lack of research and development in aquaculture, particularly in Asia. There’s a lot of R&D originating from North America and Europe, but not a lot of aquaculture production there. Conversely, there isn’t enough R&D currently coming out of Asia, but there’s a lot of production there. However, things are changing quickly, said Avnimelech. R&D is improving, and more of it is coming out of Asia every year.

“We need to be find a balance,” he said. “I can promise you that in 10 years research output from China, India and other Asian countries will be much more than the output from North America and Europe.”