USA prepares for massive growth in aquaculture

Aquaculture from underwater

The United States is laying the groundwork for massive growth in aquaculture across the entire country.

The NOAA Fisheries Service (kind of like DFO in Canada) and the USDA (Department of Agriculture) have released a draft copy of their National Aquaculture Research and Development Strategic Plan. The aim of the plan is to “provide a framework for federal agencies to develop programs for research and development that affect the production of aquatic organisms such as finfish, crustaceans, mollusks, and algae.”

As we move into the second decade of the 21st century and beyond, a compelling case can be made for increasing scientific and technical knowledge to use aquaculture to grow safe and nutritious seafood in the United States; create new jobs, from coastal communities to the agricultural heartland; and foster sustainable aquaculture practices.

Aquaculture, in conjunction with wild-harvest fisheries, will help to meet the growing demand for seafood and provide alternatives to increasing fishing pressure on fragile wild fish stocks. Aquaculture can generate prosperity in new ways while conserving and enhancing the Nation’s natural resources and providing a safe, sufficient, and nutritious supply of seafood for the country and for export markets.

Aquatic species are highly efficient, with feed conversion rates that compare favorably with terrestrial animal production.

Globally, aquaculture has evolved dramatically since Federal legislation was enacted in 1980 and 1985. While wild fish harvest has stabilized, aquaculture has driven growth of the seafood sector, influenced product diversity, and found ways to address both economic development and environmental conservation goals in diverse aquatic ecosystems.

The sector is knowledge and technology driven and continues to innovate and adapt to societal needs for nutritious food, good jobs, and sustainable production. The United States has bountiful freshwater and marine natural resources, plentiful feed grains produced in the heartland, a world-class aquaculture R&D infrastructure, and scientists, pioneers, and entrepreneurs to drive innovations and novel discoveries.

The potential for sustainable growth of the aquaculture industry is indisputable. Today, however, the United States is a minor producer, supplying only about 5 percent of the seafood consumed domestically.

So how are they going to help it grow?

By putting more public money into research and development. 

“Without such support, the private sector cannot adequately fund certain types of research needed to advance the industry in the United States.”

By devising subsidies for aquaculture.

“Domestic aquaculture development does not have the support of a large commodity check-off program (i.e., a payment or a tax on sales of agricultural goods that finances a generic commodity marketing program, such as exists for milk, beef, and soybeans).”

By collaborating.

“The future grand challenges and current specific challenges identified in this Plan require new collaborative approaches across scientific disciplines, institutions, agencies, and public and private sectors and new non-governmental  partnerships to effectively and efficiently create opportunities for domestic aquaculture to  expand and prosper.”

“Determine new collaborative and economic opportunities between the aquaculture industry, the commercial fishing industry, and the conservation community (e.g. product marketing and employment crossover).”

By streamlining regulations, as per an Executive Order from President Obama himself.

“Policies and regulations to protect and restore our Nation’s natural resources for future generations can be compatibly aligned with our Nation’s opportunity as a world leader and model for sustainable aquaculture production. Such improvement in regulation is consistent with Executive Order 13563, Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review.”

By finding ways to reduce energy and feed costs, and minimize environmental impacts, investing in science and research to figure out new ways to improve.

“Aquaculture in the United States will continue to innovate and refine ―environmentally sustainable‖ practices in response to competitive pressures to reduce costs (especially of feed and energy), environmental regulations, competition for sites, market demand for certified products, limiting freshwater supplies, and competing uses for the nation’s coasts and waterways.”

By jump-starting a made-in-USA industry producing alternative protein sources, such as algae rich in Omega-3s,  to use in fish feed.

“Food and Drug Administration approval of new aquatic animal feed ingredients will be a critical step in novel ingredient development.”

By encouraging technological innovation in production systems.

AHA, some readers may say at this point, this is where they outline their glorious plan to transition all salmon farms to land-based production systems.

Sorry to disappoint you, but there is no mention whatsoever of moving fish farms on land.

In fact, the plan talks about how American aquaculture producers have been world leaders in developing ocean farming technology, systems which are exactly the same as the ones used in Canada. There appear to be no plans to move fish farms from the ocean to the land, but to instead encourage the development of aquaculture which is sustainable, uses less energy and is cost-effective.

A well-situated ocean salmon farm trumps a land-based salmon farm on all three of those criteria, every single time.

The paper does give some examples of innovation. One idea is “nutrient trading,” which works the same way as carbon credits. Companies which find ways to reduce their emissions of nutrients, like manure from land-based farms, could sell their extra credits to other agricultural or aquaculture producers who are facing high costs to reduce their nutrient emissions.

For example, a dairy farmer in Olympia, WA who finds a way to keep all of his farm manure from leaching into the watershed, and into the Puget Sound, could sell credits to a salmon farmer in Puget Sound who would find it impractical and too costly to build a system to catch all fish waste. Or a salmon farmer in Puget Sound who finds a way to reduce fish waste by more efficient feeding practices could sell credits to a dairy farmer who cannot afford to build a multi-million-dollar manure containment system.

For a case study in how nutrient trading could work, take a look at this article about nutrient trading in Chesapeake Bay.

It’s a pretty thorough draft plan, and NOAA is seeking public comments until the end of summer.

Aquaculture is going to happen in the USA, and it’s going to be big.

Meanwhile, here in Canada the industry is in danger of stagnation because government lacks the will and the courage to allow it to grow.

Hopefully that will change, otherwise someday we’ll be importing most of our seafood from the USA.

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