Aquaculture Can Cure our Economic Ills
by Francis P. Koster, Ed.D.
The population of the earth has doubled since 1970. Since each of these humans needs to eat, this has caused serious overfishing of the oceans. Technical innovations such as “fish finders” and flash freezing at sea have enabled harvesting of more and more fish - too many, in fact.
No one owns the oceans, or the fish that live in them. This results in unlimited harvesting in parts of the world. The perception is that you might as well get what you can while the getting is good, because if you don’t, someone else will.
Many species are endangered. Many important edible fish are forecast to disappear entirely within our lifetimes. Prices will surely rise as fish grow scarcer, a process any homemaker can tell you is already beginning.
Overfishing has exhausted breeding stocks of many favorites such as yellow fin tuna, and fishing boats are going deeper to find substitute fish not eaten by humans until recently. Do you remember the first time a few years ago when you saw fish called Orange Roughy, Chilean Sea Bass, and Sablefish on a menu? These fish come from very deep water, and their presence on a menu is a symptom.
The deep sea is almost completely dark. Deep-sea fish grow slowly because of limited food, and many don't reach maturity for 30 to 40 years. A fillet of Orange Roughy at the store is probably from a fish that is at least 50 years old. When the fishermen catch a mature breeding age deep sea fish, it will take many years for another to grow from fingerling to "mom sized." Because of over harvesting the “mom fish," even populations of very deep sea fish are now falling sharply.
In 2010, imported fish made up 86% of the seafood eaten in the United States. Fish is now the second largest natural resource we import, after oil!Surprisingly, China is now the third ranking supplier of all food products (including seafood) to this country.
As a Futurist, I worry about how the world, and our country, will feed ourselves, and our kids, as global population rapidly increases.
One possible solution is to expand fish farming in the United States. Of all fish consumed In the United States, roughly 40% is farm raised, almost all of it abroad. Annually, global aquaculture production is valued at almost $100 billion, but total U.S. aquaculture production is just under $1 billion, leaving us with much room to grow this industry locally. Total farm production in North Carolina is only about $25 million.
One success story is the Taylor Fish Farm in central North Carolina, which produces about 250,000 pounds of fish per year. Currently, they raise tilapia year-round, using nine antibiotic free indoor “total culture tanks”. The facility started from scratch in 2005, and was built with all local labor. To increase profitability, Taylor sells its product through a local fish farmers co-operative who share the cost of marketing and other overhead.
A second example is the American Prawn Cooperative in Walstonburg, North Carolina. The prawn is a freshwater shrimp which grows in large outdoor ponds. A nine-year-old business that has been expanding around 10% per year, using no chemicals, and recycle most of the water used.
New entrepreneurs can start small and still be profitable, and grow the business like Bell Aquaculture of Albany, Indiana has. Started as a back yard operation in 1994, they have grown nicely, and are finishing new construction to achieve 2.2 million pounds per year of production of yellow perch yearly while employing a staff of 40 - again with no chemicals or antibiotics in the feed. Bell uses 1/2 of 1% of the water used by older fish farm designs, thus opening up possibilities for dryer parts of the country to get into this business.
Experts in the field I spoke to tell me the future is now - that indoor, closed system, chemical-free, low-water-use plants can be established anywhere. Using old factories and other defunct buildings lessens start up costs.
Local Cooperative Extension Services can help entrepreneurs install new local projects like these – simply do an internet search on “USDA fish farming” to find some help. (You can find other information, including the source of all the facts used in this article, on my website, www.TheOptimisticFuturist.org.)
An important part of our food supply is under threat, and we export money to buy fish from around the world. We also know that significant business opportunity exists for modern fish farming for local markets using closed factories. Using the latest science and business techniques, existing buildings and refrigeration facilities, new profitable local business and new jobs can be created, while ensuring a safe supply of locally raised food.
Are we going to moan about losing our past, or spend that same energy creating a better future?
Last one in the water loses.
[x][x] email from Steve Summerfelt, Director, Aquaculture Systems Research, The Conservation Fund Freshwater Institute
[xiii][xiii] email from Steve Summerfelt, Director, Aquaculture Systems Research, The Conservation Fund Freshwater Institute
[xiv][xiv] Phone call February 22, 2010 with Dr Rick Barrows, Bozeman Fish Technology Center 406-994-9909 and Dr. Steven Summerfelt, The Conservation Fund Freshwater Institute.
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