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AQT SPOTLIGHT ON ALEX ROMERO – AQUACULTURE AS A CAREER

Aquaculture is not only a growing industry that provides food security and employment. Working in aquaculture for a lot of people involved in the industry, represents a lifestyle. Aquaculture, even though technology has eased a lot of methods and processes is not a 9 to 5 job, people tend to marry their aquaculture careers to their families and personal aspects, because sometimes is not easy for them to keep them separated.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Alex Romero, he is a 34-year-old Oaxaca, Mexico native. His story was very interesting, and I thought sharing it with you. He was raised in Campeche and lived in Ensenada for about 15 years. Alex has been working in Bradenton Florida for the last 2 years and a half as a General manager at a Tilapia Hatchery, in the past he has worked with Striped Bass and Catfish.

What did you graduate in?

“This is actually a funny story. When I graduated high school, we still did not have a degree in Aquaculture Biotechnology. The closest thing that would bring me to it was studying Oceanology. So, I graduated High School and went straight to study Oceanology, then it was when I was in the 8th semester, just one year from graduating that they opened a degree in Aquaculture Biotechnology and I dropped everything and transferred, started from square one basically”.

And how did you know it was Aquaculture the career you were meant for?

“We always lived close to the sea, at ports mainly, so my life has always been related to that. My dad used to work for a big fishing company in Mexico, and I remember asking to come with him to work and go on vessels, where they were catching for example shrimps, and when you saw the nets you not only had shrimps you had all kinds of fauna that were going to go to waste due poor fishing practices the fishing industry has always had, and by then nobody actually blinked an eye about that, because there was so much marine resources they thought it was unlimited. But honestly it made me so upset to see so many products and so much life go to waste, so I did research and I found out Aquaculture had more sustainable practices and were a lot more environmentally friendly. That experience at the big fishing vessels definitely created an impact on me, because I always had that love for the sea, for marine creatures, and aquaculture materialized that which I had in my head. And my goal is to stay in this industry and care for the world, care for the sea, care for the fishes and give an example to my kid, because is example that leads. I believe aquaculture represents a big opportunity to create a better world and environment”.

At the beginning it was a little scary, he says, everyone around him would set him to failure, saying aquaculture would not take him anywhere, that he would be a middle or high school teacher, that it would not bring food to his table, and people went on and on about what his future in aquaculture was going to be like. But he did not pay attention to them “everyone has to find their path or build it and I have to find a way to be successful and get to where I want to go” and his first employment was an international opportunity, a catfish company, in Mississippi, USA, hired him as a hatchery technician. There he worked for over 4 years and his exit position was as Hatchery manager.

For his very first work experience he is still very grateful because not only it represented his way into the labor market, but he climbed up the stairs from cleaning fish tanks all the way to that last position.

How did you feel when you found your self to be so successful, I mean right now you are a general manager, about everything people used to say?

“I’m going to be honest and just finding that first job, all of those things they told me ran across my head. Even my teachers would tell me those kinds of things, you know. But I was determined this was going to be my life, that I was going to make a career off of it and I would send so much job applications, that you know, you would think that just by statistical probability at least one would hire me, right? So, after I received that first job offer, I thought in all those people, and I thank god I haven’t stopped working a single week since that first day, that I get to bring food to my family’s table day in and day out. I am very grateful, happy, and I love what I do for a living, what else can I ask for?”

What is the biggest challenge you have faced along your career?

Throughout his professional life he has been back and forth from the United States and Mexico, which he says has given him a broad scope on personal and professional aspects of his life. But the opportunity of getting to know people from many cultures and countries gives him a different perspective and points of views, getting to know the world through other people’s eyes and life experiences, widening his mind.

Being in a different country he has had good and bad moments, describing it as an unstoppable rollercoaster being away from his family has been one of the biggest challenges, he has missed birthdays, anniversaries, Christmases, and many special dates next to the ones he loves, because “fishes don’t take a day off, they need to eat every day, they need to be monitored every day, one small thing goes wrong and the whole operation goes boom” you have to give up things from your life “and nobody warns you about that, is a very demanding career and it takes the support of your family and specially your significant other, because without that everything would be a lot harder”.

“My family sometimes visits me, but it is hard to be apart, sometimes I feel lonely, my kid and his mom are in Mexico while I am in the USA, she is also a professional, a hard-working woman and I know it wouldn’t be fair for me to ask her to drop that and come live with me, we have been together for over 12 years and we have gotten through this, but it doesn’t make it any easier”.

“In general, the main challenge is always lack of personnel, not enough qualified people, or people wanting to wear the shirt, people willing to work in aquaculture considering everything you are giving up to give life to the fishes, as a general manager I have to constantly be involved in the hiring process, so I always come clean with them, ‘you have to work in very remote areas, you have no days or weekends off, no holidays’ you know nobody wants to waste their time, I don’t, so, sometimes is difficult to find personnel because not everyone is willing to live the aquaculture life”.

How do you feel COVID-19 has affected your work?

“Thankfully, our industry was not hit as badly as other industries were. We work in a semi-opened place, it is only a few of us, so it was easy to keep up with regulations and social distancing. We still had a lot of production and sales. Work kept me busy, even though I couldn’t go anywhere, I could go to work everyday and have something to set my mind to”.

What would you recommend someone that is thinking of choosing aquaculture as a career?

“Well, to me is a matter of attitude, if you really want this, you like production, you like fishes, you like aquaculture, then to me this is the path you must choose. I think this job is not like any other, your passion for fishes is what will take you to many places. The most important thing is to be passionate for fishes and wanting to make a change in the world, only that will lead you and help you make your decisions”.

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