While many of its South American neighbors are leaders in global aquaculture production, Colombia’s industry has suffered a series of setbacks since its inception in the 1930s. A large proportion of its aquaculture producers operate small-scale and low-tech family farms. Colombia’s sector also struggles with high fuel prices and is dependent on imported goods – making it difficult to compete with larger aquaculture industries in Ecuador and Chile.
A recently published study Aquaculture It found that the country could use one of its natural advantages to create a new aquaculture area. The authors believe that the country has great potential to develop a tropical fishing industry and is willing to use local fish species to build this sector. By adopting new farming methods such as RAS, investing in genetic resources and increasing per capita seafood consumption, Colombia can strengthen its aquaculture industry and compete internationally.
Information on Colombia’s aquaculture industry
Colombia’s fishing industry began in the late 1930s when entrepreneurs introduced rainbow trout.O. mykiss) to cold-water lagoons in the Andes. Trout formed part of the lagoon population strategy, allowing local residents to exploit fish with greater economic value than native species.
Colombia used a similar strategy in the 1970s when government stocking programs proposed the controlled introduction of different tilapia species. However, the region’s tilapia hatcheries began to overproduce fingerlings, and tilapia began to colonize the Magdalena River Basin, competing with native species.
In the 1980s, Colombia began to change its aquaculture strategy, promoting native species such as white cachama and black cachama. The segment has grown since the cachama species are well adapted to different climate zones and water conditions in Colombia. However, Colombia’s aquaculture industry is still dominated by non-native strains of rainbow trout and tilapia – accounting for 64 percent of national production in 2020.
Over the past 10 years, the government has launched a national aquaculture strategy that has created a monitoring body for the sector. Key policy outcomes include technical and scientific documents outlining sustainable aquaculture activities for producers and the establishment of a planning and development framework for the industry. The researchers were also tasked with identifying promising native species for Colombia’s marine and freshwater aquaculture sector.
Although the creation of the National Aquaculture and Fisheries Authority (AUNAP) shows a high level of progress, production data from 2020 show that Colombia’s aquaculture sector is unable to benefit from its native fish species.
Colombia’s untapped aquaculture potential
In addition to having two extensive coastlines on the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, Colombia boasts several inland basins, reservoirs and natural water bodies, making it an ideal candidate for aquaculture development. The country’s climate is well suited to warm water aquaculture and is easily suitable for the cultivation of tropical fish. Recent statistics show that Colombia’s inland aquaculture sector produced 174,067 tons of fish, with its marine segment accounting for 3 percent of its landings (less than 4,000 tons). Colombia’s marine aquaculture industry is largely undeveloped. Colombia’s fisheries sector is on a growth trajectory – but still faces many major challenges, the researchers note.
Colombia’s per capita consumption of aquaculture products is 8.8 kg per year, which is the lowest compared to the consumption of other animal proteins. An additional setback is that most of the country’s 36,000+ fish farms are small-scale, producing between 20 and 600 tonnes of biomass per year. This means that the industry must adopt technological strategies to make farming operations more efficient and sustainable. Despite the need, small-scale farmers are often reluctant to invest in new aquatech – they fear losing the return on investment.
Other major problems are the lack of quality fish seeds and the dominance of rainbow trout and tilapia in the industry. According to the researchers, solving these problems by improving fish seeds and diversifying its species portfolio will ensure the sustainable development of the sector and allow it to be more competitive.
Optimizing seed production by adopting genetic strategies such as selective breeding, especially for local fish, will allow the industry to develop on a commercial scale. Relying on existing stock is not an option. Current seeds have poor growth rates and high morbidity and mortality rates, the researchers note.
Focusing research and development efforts on native and tropical species could also allow Colombia to diversify its aquaculture offerings. Cultivating a wider variety of species adapted to Colombia’s ecosystems gives the industry more opportunities to optimize production. It also means that he can adopt different aquatech solutions on his farm.
The researchers conclude that Colombia’s aquaculture sector should work towards adopting production methods such as biofloc and recirculation (RAS) – farming methods with good sustainability and productivity measures. Strengthening the wider aquaculture sector in Colombia is vital – the industry lends itself easily to the country’s circular economy commitments and can strengthen its food security. Its potential for creating employment should not be overlooked. Embracing native species can help the Colombian industry grow and compete with other aquaculture producers in Latin America.
Read the full review Aquaculture.