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AQT Spotlight on Luis Compagnucci – Aquaculture in Argentina

With high-quality water and incredible resources, ample spaces for the production of fish and fish feed, great climate and weather conditions that provide the possibility to produce a variety of species, excellent institutions and universities with great research and development programs, plus an excellent reputation when it comes to food production, we find Argentina only taking a 0,004% of the worldwide annual production of aquaculture products.

I was curious as to why, having all those, the aquaculture industry was not as big as others. So, I contacted Luis Compagnucci, who has been involved in the industry for over 40 years. I learned about his overall experience in launching and landing the Aquaculture industry in Argentina.

Luis tried, in several opportunities, to start organizations and societies that would be a hinge between producers and the government. The “Argentinian Aquaculture organization”, “Argentine Chamber of Aquaculture Producers”, among others. They would take off for a couple of years, but then get stuck with time.

He has a bachelor’s in biology from Universidad Nacional de Cordoba, Argentina. A Technologist in Aquaculture and Fisheries from Universidad Nacional del Comahue, Argentina. And is a Specialist in Intensive Aquaculture Production from Universidad de Padua, Italy. Luis also did his internships in Japan, Australia, and the USA, and in recent years in China. With his studies he has taken part in several projects in Argentina and abroad.

Luis currently runs Aquamind, a consultancy company that dedicates half its time to aquaculture and the other half to evaluations of environmental impact, aquatic ecology, and the bioremediation of aquatic environments impacted by anthropic action. “We are not just aquaculture production, we have developed several projects in that area. I myself am a partner and producer. But that is not the only thing we do.”

How has Luis’ experience in the industry been?

Luis says if he has to use just one word to describe his path in aquaculture he would say “good”. Throughout these years what’s given him the push to develop himself in the industry is the international experiences. “ I have been able to see people from different countries face similar challenges and solve them with different approaches, technologies tools, being able to see different answers to similar problems is basically the backbone of my life”.

He describes his career as an exciting one despite the obstacles. And his approach as a stubborn one, as he refuses to keep the industry in the country as it is. He says “I will always do whatever is at my reach to make it work”. Between 2012 and 2015, a group that included Luis, contributed to create a legal frame for sustainable aquaculture production in Argentina, which promotes and regulates aquaculture activities in the country and sets a nice common ground for future projects.

Why did Luis join the Aquaculture industry?

“Water, it may sound simple. All of these years after joining the industry that’s something I am really clear about. It took me quite some time to identify it. I have always tried to be close to the water. Water has always driven me. I was studying biology in the center of the country, then I found out aquaculture activities started developing, trout farming, in southern Argentina, with snow and cold.

It didn’t take me more than 2 seconds to decide and move there, and study aquaculture there. I was able to merge water and biology permanently. Then I met my dear trout and salmon, I always tell my children there’s a lot we have to thank those fishes.”

Why is aquaculture in Argentina still on a small tank?

Luis shares three reasons: low fish consumption, plenty provision of wild caught fish and risks of the aquaculture business.

Compared to other countries, he says, Argentina has a very low fish consumption rate. Between 5.7 to 8 kilos per habitant per year. “And most fish consumption is focused on coastal settlements. Truth is, due problems with distribution and cold chains, the product that makes it to mountain ranges and adjacent towns is not as fresh”.

Fisheries production is really high and represents a huge portion of foreign exchange income in the country. In 2019 they caught around 650.000 tones, 400.000 out of which are for export. “And our wild caught fish is high quality fish. High quality Hake, Sea Bream, Croakers, Squid, Prawns. So we have low demand and consumption of products from aquaculture and when people have the desire to eat fish they consume a good product from fishing. Plus, our bovine production is one of the biggest, and that factor gives space to the third one, risks.”

Risks are a really important factor. From an economical aspect, aquaculture has more rentability compared to agriculture activities. But considering internal fish consumption is low, most of whatever could be produced from aquaculture would need to be exported. The country has a huge economical instability and a lot of regulations. “So, if someone from traditional agricultural activities want to immerse in aquaculture, sees the economic risks, and says ‘no, is best if I stick to what I’ve been doing’.”

How much aquaculture product does Argentina have per year?

Most production is small scale, artisanal, family based, for extremely local consumption. “for example, Pacu which is a native fish of ours, we have a total of 1100 tones per year. There’s not a lot of wild Pacu, since it has been overfished for decades and faced ecological challenges. So people resorted to aquaculture. There you have 2 big producers with 800 tones per year between them. 280 other small producers are in charge of the other 300 tones”.

All 1100 tones are for internal consumption. Even though it doesn’t seem like Argentina has an aquaculture industry, there are people producing. People have cows, pigs, sheep, and then they also have tanks and ponds for small scale fish production.

Argentina does not allow the exploitation of natural environments. So, Rainbow Trout production -around 1,300 tons per year, in 2019- is almost exclusively carried out with Floating-cage systems, in the Alicurá Reservoir. Produced by a current reduced number of producers (5 to 7) with one that produces most of the annual trout production and eventually exports fillets to the USA.

What is the future of Aquaculture in Argentina?

We are left to wonder what could happen to Argentinian aquaculture, bearing a very complete academical formation, good research and development background, technology, and spaces to perform aquaculture. Luis says the situation with investors is sort of like the tale of the chicken and the egg. “How do you prove investors they can succeed on an industrial scale, without having internal industrial scales?”. What Luis usually does is he travels with the investors to other countries and shows them their aquaculture industries.

“The industry at this point is heading towards fish feed production. Investors and big companies around the world have noticed in Argentina we have the human resource, the technology and the raw materials for high quality fish feed, so that’s where we will be aiming for the next few years.”

What is Aquamind?

Luis has focused his activity on evaluation, design and commissioning. Followed by formation and training of personnel, and after, accompaniment with eventual visits and advisories for any biological or technical problem his clients may present.

Aquamind has been Luis’ project since the 90’s when he got back from Australia. “I was inspired by how things were organized. Aquamind is basically a whole bunch of freelance professionals without an actual hierarchy. But whenever we need to provide consultancy or we need studies for different aspects of business, we have professionals linked to us that help us achieve those goals.

For example, studies in aquatic ecology, or water quality analysis, we have me and other capable biologist and aquaculture professionals. If we need to provide services in pumping units, we have hydraulic engineers. We have economist for all mercantile aspects. And then outside of aquamind everyone has their own activities and projects. With new technologies we are able to perform our duties regardless of the place we are at. “

Aquamind is also involved in the development and startup of hatcheries and nurseries throughout Argentina. “Our biggest project is near Bariloche. Where we serve technical assistance on a raft-cages system where they produce around 150 tones per year. Then some other projects like establishment of fishponds with Tilapia, Red Claw Crayfish, Cyprinids, Natural Fishponds, Extensive Culture of native species, such as Pacu and Pejerrey. The projects we have been involved with are mainly for artisanal and small productions. But we also have some projects with Tilapia on RAS, catfish, sturgeon and river fishes. We have a several ongoing aquaculture systems throughout the country. “

What about the Fishing industry?

We have said it, the fishing industry represents a huge income in foreign exchange. Even bigger than other agricultural activities, we could say there’s plenty of fish in the Argentinian sea being caught. “Not only from internal industries, but we also get a lot of predation from foreign ships and foreign industries.

Foreign industries constantly predate our calamari, Prawn, Hake, and a lot other species. We have a huge ecological benefit in our seacoast, which is the warm currents from Brazil meeting with the cold current from the Falkland Islands. However for the internal fishing industry Aquamind performs primary productivity determination activities, through the analysis of satellite information.”

The Argentinian Sea provides an ecological paradise, which translates in overfishing of the high-quality fish that can be extracted. The activity is so big, that light pollution from that activity is extremely high.

Light Pollution on the Argentinian Sea from Fisheries activities. Earth Observation Group, NOAA National Geophysical Data Center

What would you recommend someone wanting to join the aquaculture industry in Argentina?

“Honestly, I have three answers to that question.” Luis says

First Recommendation

If a young person comes my way, from any university, they are about to graduate and ask me for assistance on their projects or dissertations, I am always there to provide any assistance they may need. If they come at me and tell me they want to be a part of this industry, I always step on their shoes, and give them encouraging words. I do my best to be supportive. Universities always call me to give speeches and participate and conferences and I always try to be motivational.

There’s something new people can always bring to the industry, and everything can potentiate and improve our processes and systems. The truth is, if they join the industry they don’t need to stay in Argentina. The industry is to a very globalized point today, for example you with AquacultureTalent. So they can go work somewhere else, which has been happening a lot.

Second Recommendation

If someone with small limited resources, savings, comes to me telling me they want to give aquaculture business a try. My answer is a solid no. Not because I don’t think there are chances here. I’m convinced there aren’t. A lot of people come saying “oh but I’ve seen how they produce rabbit”. Okay, but I am very stubborn, producing chicken, rabbit, chinchilla, is nothing like producing fish. You go and see them, you may even pet them.

But with fishes, you may not be able to even see them because the water has dark days sometimes. Or if you didn’t do something right then all of your fishes die for problems with oxygen, underfeeding. So in the blink of an eye you may lose all your savings. Of course if you have more resources you will overcome that. But if your resources are limited, then don’t come in the industry.

Third Recommendation

And finally. If someone with plenty of resources comes, with income from other productive activities, and want to give it a try and test the waters. Then we are very straight-forward with them. We tell them the risks, and then if they still want to jump on board, we are there to walk them throughout the process. “

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