Natural Productivity of Restored Mangroves: Pre-Summit Interview with René Benguerel, Owner and Managing Director of Blueyou Group

The Blueyou group of companies is active in services, production, trade and distribution of sustainable seafood solutions worldwide. They also partner with fisheries and aquaculture producers worldwide and supports their effort in improving the sustainability and economic viability of their operations, with a special focus on small-scale producers and Fair Trade models.René Benguerel

We caught up with René ahead of his fireside chat ‘Restorative Aquaculture: Replenishing Our Oceans Through Innovative Nature-Based Solutions‘ at the inaugural Blue Food Innovation Summit to find out why restorative aquaculture is a worthy business model beyond its environmental benefits.

What is restorative aquaculture? Tell us about your technology or process.

Restorative aquaculture is part of Blueyou’s wider strategy to include “regenerative” and “circular” economy models and “social inclusiveness” into the sustainable seafood equation. We believe that sustainability must go beyond respecting the natural limits of a given ecosystem at its carrying capacity: we need to find solutions for restoring vulnerable habitats such as mangroves and coral reefs and bring back biodiversity, increase resilience and include local communities by creating viable blue economy business models.

At Blueyou, we are focusing on mangrove habitats which have been converted by the shrimp industry, promoting nature-based, extensive farming models based on the natural productivity of the restored habitat. We are combining mangrove restoration and conservation with natural, organic farming of shrimp and crab, which can also include filter feeding finfish such as milkfish and tilapia. There is huge potential and global need for mangrove reforestation: functional mangrove habitats create the basis for sustainable livelihoods and serve as carbon sinks, prevent erosion, protect coastlines and serve as biodiversity hotspots!

How does it fit into the wider blue food space, why is it important?

The blue food sector has a tremendous potential to produce high value proteins in a sustainable way. Restorative, nature-based aquaculture is one important component to achieve this goal. Functional habitats with a high biodiversity and natural productivity for growing food are our best “insurance” against climate change, other environmental risks and social disruption. Restorative aquaculture is an essential part of a planetary health food system.

In developing economies located in the tropics and subtropics, a large number of people depend on aquaculture for their livelihoods. Often left behind while more urban areas develop, these farmers are an important part of the food security systems in these economies. Blueyou’s projects focus on developing these sectors of the food economy where potential positive social and environmental impacts are high. Further, connecting these producers to consumer markets that recognise the environmental benefits can amplify returns.

What is exciting in restorative aquaculture now? How do you see it developing over the next five years?

There is increasing interest in mangrove restoration and the potential to use blue carbon credits to finance reforestation. Large conservation NGO, governments and impact investment funds are interested in our work with coastal communities and small-scale farmers. Combining mangrove restoration with natural farming of high value organic seafood is an attractive proposition for all stakeholders. Our goal is to create scalable models to make restorative aquaculture in mangrove forest systems bankable – and create partnerships across the globe in order to restore valuable coastal habitats and secure livelihoods of coastal communities.

Still, there are only a handful of existing blue carbon credit projects worldwide; they are complex to implement. The investment sector cannot expect business as usual in terms of ROI and low risk – the true benefits of restorative aquaculture are not fully monetizable within existing economic models and while carbon credits help to bridge this gap, they do not represent the full story. Future investment strategies must be adapted to the realities on the ground.

Why is the Blue Food Innovation Summit an important date in your diary? Who are you hoping to meet?

We need new ways for growing our food, not only on land, but also in the blue food sector. I am looking forward to connecting with innovators and leaders – and to collaborating on solutions.

Often, the aquaculture improvement discussions focus primarily on high-tech aquaculture methods, neglecting that extensive farming systems cover vast areas in the tropics with tremendous improvement potential. Particularly, the movement toward regenerative aquaculture is lacking seed funding and initial investment for trial projects. To reach investment readiness, these projects need better support and exposure.

René will be joined on our Restorative Aquaculture fireside chat by speakers from Builders Initiative and Urchinomics. View the agenda to discover more.