Saturday, March 19, 2011

Upcoming Master’s Thesis Project- Aquaculture Insurance

In the third week of April, I will begin working on my Msc Thesis project, which will focus on aquaculture insurance in the United Kingdom and Ireland.  The objective of the study is to conduct a detailed survey into farmer attitudes towards aquaculture stock insurance as well as the various factors and market conditions affecting demand. Additionally, I will be giving a description of the suitability and availability of present policies to meet farmers’ needs.

The study will focus on three distinct production sectors within aquaculture:

a) A sector where insurance is available and coverage is prevalent (Salmon)
b) A sector where insurance is available but coverage is not often purchased (Trout)
c) A sector which is currently rarely covered by insurance (Shellfish)

Characteristics and industry features of the different sectors will be determined to draw correlations between farmers’ operations and perceptions of the risks to which they are exposed, as well as the insurance industry’s perception of the risks and the coverage currently offered by insurers.

For this study, I have partnered with several leading aquaculture insurance brokers and underwriters, who will serve as invaluable ‘industry partners’, providing insight and information into this specialist insurance sector.  Additionally, I have partnered with the respective producer associations to solicit their assistance in contacting producers to conduct interviews.

It is expected that the conclusions of this study should prove valuable to insurance companies, as I will be working to identify discrete factors which affect farmers' uptake of coverage.  The results should also prove beneficial to producers, as the completed study may help insurance companies gain a clearer understanding of the perceptions of risk that farmers maintain.

I am very receptive to external inputs into this study, so please feel free to comment below.  Additionally, if you would like to be involved in the study, please do not hesitate to contact me!  

MSc Advanced Module 5- Epidemiology and Health Control

The fifth module in the MSc course was titled ‘Epidemiology and Health Control’ and was taught principally by Jimmy Turnbull and Darren Green, with supplementary lectures from Randolph Richards, Andy Shinn, Sandra Adams, and Kim Thompson.  This was a veterinary class which focused on the spread of aquatic diseases and parasites and how outbreaks of disease may be controlled.

The majority of this course was lectures and seminars: main topics included fish welfare, biosecurity, risk management, pharmacology and treatment, and statistical analysis.  Several labs were also conducted, on such topics as immunochemistry, histopathology, virology, and parasitology.

Statistics were heavily emphasized: the assessment for the course was a report on the statistical analysis of a disease outbreak at a series of shrimp farms.  This assessment took real data gathered at shrimp farms and had us using statistical software to analyse a variety of factors, such as source of feed, use of antibiotics, source of water, etc.  Through a variety of statistical tests, it was our job to determine which, if any, factors were significantly associated with the disease, and if so, propose recommendations as to how to control the outbreak.

This course was a requirement for the students taking Aquatic Veterinary and Pathobiology studies, and as such it was taught at a seemingly advanced medical level.  However, the material was incredibly interesting, and I feel as if I have a much firmer grasp of diseases, disease transmission, and maybe more importantly, mitigation.

The next and final module of the MSc course is Geographic Information Systems (GIS), which is a subject that I have never had the opportunity to take but have been looking forward to for several years! 

Saturday, March 5, 2011

MSc Advanced Module 4- Livelihoods and Aquatic Resource Management

The fourth Advanced module in the MSc program at Stirling was titled ‘Livelihoods and Aquatic Resource Management’ and was taught primarily by Dave Little, with supplementary lectures from Francis Murray.  This course focused on small-scale rural communities and how aquaculture fits into the complex social and economic environment surrounding these communities.

Three days of lectures centered on such topics as livelihoods analysis at both community and household levels, aquatic resource management, and stakeholder interactions.  After these lectures, we were broken into two groups of three for our assessed projects: our group was assigned an in-depth analysis of Pangasius farming in Vietnam, and how this industry impacts the region on a social level.

Pangasius farming has absolutely exploded in Vietnam over the past ten years: many would argue production has grown so fast that regulation and legislation has not been able to keep pace, resulting in an extremely complex, and often messy, situation.  Many small producers are beginning to be outcompeted by larger, more industrialized outfits, and our assessment was to make recommendations as to how the livelihoods of these smaller farmers may be protected.
A Pangasius farm in the Mekong Delta region of southern Vietnam

We came to the conclusion that cooperatives, where many small farmers band together to create one larger entity, may be a potential for smaller producers.  In this way, they begin to gain more bargaining and buying power and can start to take advantage of the economies of scale that the larger producers utilize.  Additionally, education and training programs may be key to helping farmers improve their practices and ultimately optimizing their production.   Both of these methods can help farmers achieve market certification through organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund, whose Pangasius standards are gaining global recognition.

Overall, this module was thoroughly enjoyable and I feel as if I learned a great deal about the complex interactions that must be identified and considered when evaluating an aquaculture operation in context.  The next module is Epidemiology, the only veterinary course that I will be taking during this program.