Women in aquaculture: Catherine Greengrass Smith

Alex Whitebrook/ May 7, 2018/ News/ 0 comments

Catherine Greengrass Smith, director of aquaculture and environmental consultancy Gaia, talks about her ambitions to help the growth of South Africa’s aquaculture industry

Fish farming in South Africa is a new and emerging sector. Although still a small contributor to national fishery products and GDP, various constraints such as access to water, technology and high transaction costs are now being addressed.  With aquaculture providing a significant opportunity to provide a sustainable, nutritious source of protein, its growth potential in South Africa is high.

Catherine Greengrass Smith, director of Gaia – a company that helps businesses maximise their potential in terms of aquaculture and sustainability – is confident that aquaculture in South Africa will become a vital source of food in the future. With ten years of environmental consulting and project management behind her, as well as an aquaculture PhD in progress, Catherine is part of a network of professionals, suppliers and academics that offers specialised consultancy services in aquaculture across South Africa.

Briefly describe your aquaculture career

My passion for aquaculture began when I did a two-month internship in the Bahamas at the end of my first year of a BSc in environmental sciences in 2001.  The work involved research into the collection and tank rearing of early juveniles (pueruli) of the Caribbean spiny lobster. I became fascinated by aquaculture and the technology and science behind fish farming.

Three years later, I returned to the Bahamas for another two-month internship, working again with the spiny lobsters. I also really wanted to examine the potential for farming the South African west coast rock lobster so in 2005 I started my MSc, which looked at the potential to harvest west coast rock lobster juveniles from the wild for on-growing in shore-based systems.

After completing my MSc, I worked as an environmental assessment practitioner for various large consulting firms and after six years ventured out on my own, starting my company, Gaia. I also began a PhD in aquaculture at Rhodes University that same year. I have been involved in various aquaculture projects looking at feasibility at different scales, developing implementation plans, industry analyses, informal market investigations and development, environmental assessments and permit applications. I also built a small RAS research system at the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) in Roodeplaat where I run my PhD experiments looking at the tank culture of a type of freshwater crayfish called marron, which is a niche, high-value aquaculture product. The species is currently only farmed in ponds and my research will hopefully build on early research for tank culture of the species and bring us closer to farming them in RAS. I am busy building a second small glass-tank research system at ARC for additional marron trials.

What inspired you to start in aquaculture?

I first encountered aquaculture during my internship in the Bahamas and the concept of farming fish really fascinated me from a technical perspective. At the same time, there were many discussions and research projects being implemented with the aim of creating livelihoods in lower-income communities. This instilled a passion in me to become involved in aquaculture in order to create new economic opportunities in South Africa. I have made some contributions but I feel I still have a long way to go to really contribute to the development of aquaculture in South Africa on a more meaningful level.

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