Michele Gallo, Italian marine biologist and aquaculture engineer, is the Head of Aquatic Research facilities design in AquaBioTech Group. He made a long journey until he settled on the historic island of Malta.
Raised by a family with members in the navy and a father that covered every conflict in the past 30 years as a war reporter, Michele has been familiarized with the ocean’s world and cultures diversity during his entire life.[tds_partial_locker tds_locker_id=”24891″]
Most of the people studying marine science and marine biology have an interest in environmental conservation in general, whether it is for fish species, coastal environment, or oceans. Then, you realize the main reason is to discover why those environments are destroyed and the need to exploit resources. You try to protect something that is useful for the entire human kind as a valuable resource.
From there, I understood that food security is one of the drivers. So, whether it’s fishing or producing fish, it’s still has the same goal, producing enough food for a growing population. I wanted to study aquaculture because it was the perfect combination: aquatic environment with food security.
I did a master in aquaculture focused on RAS system at Wageningen University & Research. One of the pioneers of the sector, Ep Eding, was my supervisor and mentor. He was building RAS system in the Netherlands before than anyone. I was lucky to learn from him directly.
What are AquaBioTech Group main features?
We are a well-established company, with a young and dynamic staff. We are a small-to-medium enterprise. This is one of the reasons why I like my job, but our clients are also big corporations, large institutions, or single investors.
I gained their trust and they offered me a higher position, where I am in charge of several projects at the same time, mainly related to Research Institutes or Research Centers.
What makes AquaBioTech Group different from other companies?
It’s very motivating and very satisfying. Particularly, when you see what’s the final product. When you see the first tank installed or the first fish swimming after one or two years.
We always adapt to the market demand. I might work on a specific project now and tomorrow something completely different comes out. So, you always need to be very flexible in what you try to propose.
I like to be challenged all the time with new clients asking any possible… customization of the product or, finding any possible fish species or even aquatic organisms. And it’s important to try to get an answer.
Which will be the closest in time challenges RAS systems will have to face?
First, what to do with the fish waste. The outputs of the fish farms, whether it’s a RAS or a cage, it remains the same problem. Farms produce a very large amount of waste, and this must be treated or used.
Also, we have a very high challenge when it comes to energy consumption of fish farms. Mainly, due to temperature control. If you want to control the temperature of the water, that will require energy. Thermodynamics and the hydraulics have already solutions for this. We just need to adapt them to aquaculture industry.
Another challenge is related with the type of species we want to farm. We produce the fish that the consumer wants to eat, but that doesn’t mean that the industry cannot try to propose alternative products. We need to find either a species which can already grow in captivity or a species you have enough information about its biology growth. I think we need to widen the number of species that we are consuming. Some countries belong too much to a single resource.
How RAS systems help to deal with these scenarios?
The reason why I still believe that RAS is the answer is because it provides a controlled environment. It’s safer, it’s protected by pathogens or can be protected by pathogens. It guarantees a constant production because of the temperature of the water and reduce the footprint of the farm, in general. The idea that we must put cages in the ocean or in the lake and increase the production is not reasonable.
What is the most urgent task for the aquaculture sector?
We need to invest a lot on training people of the industry. There are a lot of farms where they are struggling to find operators. It’s not necessarily about the salary or the location, it’s about if the people are able to do that. The sector must come together and realize that there are more opportunities than people available.
I’m not worried about me not having job next year. I’m just worried that someone else will take a project that cannot deliver properly. We are on the same boat, even our competitors. There is space for everyone. Aquaculture is still a growing sector.
In AquaBioTech Group we work in this aspect because we want to propose several training programs for the staff. A simple technician can become a manager in a short time, if you give him the skills and the understanding. Investing in the education part is very important.
Which have been the greatest demands you had to face in the last two years because of the pandemic?
The supply chain is all broken in a way, and it must be fixed. We have delays in materials. Well, everyone has delays in everything. Shipping is all out of control. Suppliers of any type justify increasing prices and delay because of materials.
I have to say fish farms were the least impacted because they are often in remote locations or at least isolated and with relatively small staff member. If you were handling well the situation, you would continue producing fish.
From my job point of view, the challenge was, and in some countries still is, restrictions like quarantine or traveling. My colleagues had to quarantine twice to install a system in Singapore, for example. At certain point, it became quite an issue. Other companies lost lots of projects because suddenly they couldn’t even get there. Thanks to this, I understood how resilient we are because we have a wide portfolio of activities. We never stopped working. We managed to do remote supporting.
On the other side, I have already seen a lot kind of rebounds in more projects than you think. People are more enthusiastic. Recently, I assisted to AgraME in Dubai, and I have never seen so many interesting people wanted to do projects. If you still want to invest money, means you see the end of the tunnel.
In what measure has the human factor been decisive in the development of your career?
I think aquaculture is very influenced by the human factor, by the human experience. It’s not a large industry and it’s not too old. But you will meet key people that will change the way you think or will give you that extra.
I have a good understanding of the industry and I’m quite confident of what I’m doing, but I’m always willing to listen to other people. Particularly, the people who have hands-on experience. I always speak with fish farmers, researcher on site. More than with the managers or workers behind the desk. You share problems, you share solutions.
You need to be a sponge in that sense, and you need to be also, I think, flexible to accept diversities inside the sector and not necessarily impose your way. We do things for the same scope, but in different places. We must adapt to that as well. As much as we want to propose the AquaBioTech Group way of doing it, which I strongly stand behind, I don’t think that we should always impose our will when we are working with specific clients.
I have to say most of the time I also learn from clients. We are supposed to be their advisors, but we ended up learning from them as well. It’s important to being amazed by what they achieved with the less resources they had.