Excellency in science does not depend solely on the amount of talent one has. Healthy competition, based on peer review, trustful and effective collaboration and the amount of grant money available to the researchers are playing an important role in providing the appropriate ingredients for high-level research. We need to look into ways to tighten the collaboration among UH researchers and submit together larger scale grant proposals that will enable us to compete for the biggest possible grants on the national level. Being aware of our relative isolation in Hawai’i, we should work toward creating consortiums on the national level with other institutions in different states while targeting a common research problem or aquaculture product.
Extension agents are an important link between the researcher and the farmer. This is the basis upon which the current, advanced agriculture industry in the US earned its reputation worldwide. Nowadays, with the federal pressure on governors and all the state departments, to cut their expenses, aquaculture seems to be one of the first fields to pay the price. We are already seeing this in the State of Hawai’i and we are hearing of similar cuts in other states throughout the nation. The fact is, that if people stop eating fish, the states’ populations are not going to show signs of stress in comparison to cutting on security (e.g., military and police) and energy (e.g., fuel and electricity), or even public health services, in the short run. Nonetheless, as time passes, public health services will have to increase their expenses dramatically as a result of the significant health deterioration of all those communities that had moved to diets of processed cheap protein such as canned meat, rather than fresh aquaculture products.
The continuous decline of global fisheries and the increased demand for aquaculture products will eventually lead to a higher demand for a specialized work force. Thus, we must build a skilled and reliable workforce that will be able to tackle a broad range of issues from growing fish, shrimp and algae, to producing biofuels and all that is in between, including servicing the aquarium industry. Educational institutions such as universities must then develop educational programs suitable to the task. Unfortunately, time is against us, since it generally takes about 5 years to develop a good and solid graduate program and get it running. Again, with the present economic situation it will be very hard to convince the states to devote monies for such cause while their citizens are out of jobs and hungry. Nonetheless, with all the pain and hardship, states’ task teams should look to future needs and plan ahead since it is quite evident that the current crisis is temporary. Interestingly enough, while the car industry is failing there is ongoing demand for skilled people in the internet-network industry.
Taking together the current economic situation on the one hand and the advancements in communication and media technology on the other, I can envision distance-learning, online-based educational programs that will be suitable for both undergraduate and graduate students, where hybrid, synchronous and asynchronous classes will be used while covering every populated region of our planet. The University of Hawai’i, while already running a distance learning program to some extent, will have to develop a solid aquaculture program to answer the future needs of the industry both here in Hawai’i and around the world. While ensuring that we maintain high educational standards, online courses will help us in the following ways: a) by enabling students from around the globe the opportunity to participate in courses who would otherwise be unavailable to them in their current location; b) in reaching more students & making our aquaculture educational program more marketable; c) by accommodating students who cannot be physically present at UHM for courses. This is especially important these days when the economic situation forces students to work longer hours and thus cannot attend classes during regular working hours; d) adding diversity to our program (people from around the globe); e) making courses more accessible to our current UH students who are located on different islands; and f) providing students with transferable technology skills re: lifelong learning.
Let me demonstrate here the growing need for proficiency in the web technology and its advantage. While being versed in the online technology, the future researchers and extension agents will be mainly communicating and exchanging important information with their fellow farmers via electronic media. For example, surveying, which was quite complicated to produce and analyze in the past has recently become a much easier task to handle with a variety of online tools such as Survey Monkey and Zoomerang.
Sustainable aquaculture is at the heart of our agenda. In addition to putting all our might into developing sustainable and responsible aquaculture, we are facing these days with a major challenge to ensure mutual reinforcement of economic growth, social welfare and environmental protection. Thus, we must join forces to achieve our goals. I would like to end here with a phrase that I have learned from my Zen teacher: “The goal is not to walk the straight path, the goal is walk the crooked path straight.”