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The largest aquaculture research project ever undertaken in Brazil has been started. BRS Aqua involves 22 research centers, 50 public partners and 11 private companies - numbers that should increase over the course of its duration. It is a milestone in investments in the theme, as a result of the partnership between Embrapa, National Bank for Economic and Social Development, National Council for Scientific and Technological Development and the current Special Secretariat of Aquaculture and Fisheries, attached to the Presidency of the Republic.

The project is the third largest ever funded by BNDES Funtec - a non-refundable credit facility for applied research, technological development and innovation projects. It will be R $ 45 million financed by the state bank, R $ 6 million from Embrapa and R $ 6 million from the Special Secretariat of Aquaculture and Fisheries, totaling R $ 57 million. The goal, at the end of the four years, is to establish the infrastructure and scientific research needed to meet the needs of the aquaculture market.

"This project is of great importance not only to our research center, but also to the entire Embrapa and to Brazil. It is the proof that aquaculture has come to stay and has become a strategic area in the country, "celebrates Eric Arthur Bastos Routledge, head of Research and Development at Embrapa Fishing and Aquaculture (TO), unit that coordinates the BRS Aqua.

Four species studied

In Brazil, one of the biggest challenges in aquaculture is the lack of technological packages for the creation of important aquaculture species. Therefore, the project will focus on tambaqui research (Colossoma macropomum), Tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus), shrimp (Litopenaeus vannamei) and bijupirá (Rachycentron canadum), which present great market demand or have high productivity potential.

"These species meet at different technological levels and for each of them there will be a different approach," explains researcher and project coordinator, Lícia Maria Lundstedt, of Embrapa Fisheries and Aquaculture. According to her, while the tilapia has a more advanced technological package, research with bijupirá is still incipient in the country, although it is a species native to the Brazilian coast and has the potential to be an option for the development of the national marine fish culture.

Reinforcement of research infrastructure

"Each of these species alone would yield several projects. Anyway, BRS Aqua will generate the most diverse products, among them an increment of the infrastructure for future aquaculture research at Embrapa ", explains Lundstedt. THE Embrapa Coastal Tracks (SE), for example, will have a new laboratory to research marine species; The Embrapa Middle North (IP), which already works with shrimp, will also have improvements in its facilities for research in the area and several other units of Embrapa will receive a reinforcement in infrastructure to increase aquaculture research.

To meet the most diverse demands, BRS Aqua functions as a large umbrella under which there are eight component projects (Germplasm, Nutrition, Health, Environmental Management and Management, Fish Technology, Aquaculture Sector Economics, Technology Transfer and Management ), with research distributed in several Embrapa research centers and productive poles.

Formation of germplasm bank

"One of the highlights in genetics is the generation of scientific and technological information that has a direct impact on the production of better quality tambaqui fingerlings, which will lead to reduced mortality and increased production," Lundstedt said. the project intends to establish a collection of qualified tambaqui germplasm at Embrapa Pesca e Aquicultura for future public or private investments in genetic improvement.

According to the researcher, currently the production sector of the tambaqui uses germplasm little characterized scientifically and without genetic improvement. For the production to advance, it is necessary that the germplasm be genetically improved as regards the productive characteristics, such as improvement in growth rates, greater resistance to diseases, adaptation to intensive systems of cultivation, among other advances.

In sanity, the project intends to map the most important health challenges of tambaqui and its risk factors to propose good management practices, rapid disease diagnosis systems and to develop their respective treatments. One of the main results in this area will be the identification of the preponderant risk factors related to shrimp mortality caused by white spot disease in order to propose measures to avoid or mitigate the effects on its production in the Northeast.

Caused by a virus, the disease manifests itself in the initial stage of development of the crustacean, calcifying it, causing lack of appetite, lethargy and white spots on its shell. Then the animal dies and pollutes the others. With this, entire productions are lost even before they reach the consumer. One of the most recent cases of the disease occurred in Ceará in mid-2017. In six months, 30,000 tons of shrimp were lost - equivalent to 60% of production in the period.

In nutrition, the focus will be on tambaqui and tilapia. Food protocols will be defined for the intensive production of tambaqui, in the larval, fattening and slaughter phases, in nurseries and net tanks, based on the digestion capacity of the feed ingredients and the nutritional requirements of the fish. In addition, the project will address aspects related to feed processing technology, since there are several parameters that need to be carefully monitored to obtain high quality products. The rations available in the market will also be evaluated nutritionally. It is precisely this input that impacts up to 82% in production costs, depending on the system adopted. In practice, the producer ends up spending more than necessary to fatten the animal.

Climate change and fish farming

Issues related to global warming and environmental sustainability are also on the radar of the project, which provides for the development of equipment to monitor the release of greenhouse gases in fish farming. It is also planned to analyze the relationship of production in network tanks, their greenhouse gas emissions and water quality. Monitoring of the physical, chemical and biological variables of sediment and water, including soil contamination and treatment of effluents generated by fish production, will also be studied. Likewise, a system will be developed to treat effluents from fish production.

New fish products

BRS Aqua will also work on different aspects related to fish processing. The project will work on developing technological solutions for the efficient and humane slaughtering of fish, standardization and quality control of fillets, waste use and processing co-products in the elaboration of value-added materials. Likewise, there will be a study of models for solid waste management in the fish processing industry.

Besides technological bottlenecks, Brazilian aquaculture also lacks data and economic analysis. "Because it is a relatively recent sector, compared to traditional agroindustrial chains such as other meats or grains, there is little information on several aspects of the fish chain," says Embrapa researcher Manoel Xavier Pedroza Filho, responsible for the segment of project economics. According to him, data on economic and financial viability of cropping systems, production chain structure, investment risk, economic impact of technology adoption, and macroeconomic data on national aquaculture (jobs, GDP, etc.) are lacking.

"The absence of such information makes it difficult for public and private sector decision-makers to play a key role, not only to guide investment but also to support the formulation of public policies for the sector," he said. BRS Aqua intends to generate economic information of the four species contemplated in the project, through analyzes of economic feasibility of production systems, impact of technology adoption, investment risk, among others.

Great national potential

Although it has 12% of the world's fresh water and a coastline of more than 8,500 km, the Brazilian production of aquatic animals is below its potential. The causes of this performance are diverse and include poor quality of breeding matrices; few studies on the support capacity of growing environments (maximum number of fish ideal for a certain area); limited technical assistance; deficiency in the control and monitoring of aquatic animal diseases; incipient use of waste for the production of derivatives; lack of treatment and utilization of aquaculture effluents and standardization of indicators for environmental licensing in the different environments where aquaculture is practiced.

"We did a survey of information on the sector between 2012 and 2013, which generated two studies that revealed the full potential in the area of ​​aquaculture in Brazil. This was at the time of the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture, which wanted to invest in aquaculture development, "recalls Marcos Rossi Martins, head of the Department of Industry and Services at BNDES.

The analysis found major bottlenecks and opportunities. The variety of fish in the Amazon River Basin, for example, is a differential for Brazil to reach new markets. The climate is another advantage in favor of the country, whose conditions for tilapia cultivation - one of the most consumed species of fish in the world - are excellent. Other crops, such as crustaceans and molluscs, also have potential for scale in Brazil. However, the fish industry is still incipient in the country, both in fishing and aquaculture.

According to a 2014 report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, world consumption in aquaculture is around 20 kg per capita, while beef consumption reached less than half: 6.54 kg. In this scenario it is easy to see how the fishing and aquaculture market is promising in the country.

"The world demand for fish has been growing rapidly due to population growth and the search for healthier foods. In Brazil this also occurs. In 2003, consumption was less than 6.5 kilograms of fish per person per year, now this figure has risen to nine kilograms per capita. If the population ingested the quantity recommended by the WHO, which is 12 kilos, this would already have an impact on the consumption of 5.722 thousand tons, "estimates Jaldir Lima, one of the coordinators of the BNDES study.

Expectation of improvement in competitiveness

The project was also well received by representatives of the productive sector. Antônio Albuquerque, technical director of the Association of Shrimp Breeders (ACCC), is a sign that the research is attentive to the demands of the market. "This initiative from Embrapa to listen to several actors, including other production chains, to know what the main demands are, is very positive. It is also very useful that the research know what kind of support the productive sector can give ", he says.

Francisco Medeiros, CEO of the Brazilian Fisheries Association, Peixe BR, has many expectations. "We have been following up on this proposal since 2015. It is a sector lacking solutions that offer better competitiveness. In Brazil, we have great researchers in aquaculture, however, we observe low use of technologies generated by these research institutions, "he analyzes. "We have a major competitiveness problem and we expect all these actions to bring solutions that promote better market conditions. Let's follow closely the execution of this work, "he summarizes.

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