Teach a Man About Fish and You Create Jobs
by Francis P. Koster, Ed.D.
There will be twice as many people on Earth around 2020 as there were in 1970. A lot more mouths to feed.
Problem or opportunity?
According to a just released September 2013 federal government report, we import 91% of our fish and seafood,[i] a stunning increase over past decades. More than half of this is not wild[ii]. It is raised in a fish farm. This food may not be around much longer, or it will be much more expensive, because the countries shipping them to us are growing rapidly, and will need to feed their own increasingly hungry population.
Problem or opportunity?
When we import fish to eat, we also import health risk. The countries that supply us with the majority of our farm raised seafood are not as blessed as we are with government protections on food safety. They do not have strict regulation of antibiotics, growth hormones, and other pharmaceuticals, commonly used abroad to make the fish survive filthy living conditions and grow faster. Once harvested, these same fish can have unhealthy germs introduced during the shipping phase, because poor countries unclean water systems are used to create the ice for shipping.[iii] The dead fish are chilled by germ laden water for days. And, if imported, then sold to us in those bags of frozen fish you see in the market.
This is particularly troubling because less than 2% of all seafood being imported into the United States is inspected at all for filth, spoilage or disease, and less than one-tenth of one percent is tested for pharmaceuticals.[iv] And here is the kicker - according to the GAO, over half of all that seafood inspected at our borders was unfit to eat![v] To cite just one example among many, Alabama's Department of Agriculture inspected 258 samples of fish from 5 Asian countries over 8 years, and found more than half contained antibiotics banned in U.S. fish farming due to health risk.[vi]
Problem or an opportunity?
As we struggle to replace this food supply, it can be an opportunity if fish like tilapia are raised indoors in low density tanks in sanitary conditions, near our big cities, thus significantly reducing the need for hormones or antibiotics and reducing time from harvest to plate.
The beauty of this concept is that the fish can be raised in repurposed abandon factories, shopping centers, and other similar spaces, handy to food inspectors, and close to the processing centers needed to turn live fish into what you find on the supermarket shelves.
Suppose your county or city was to embark on a deliberate job creation strategy to locally grow sanitary seafood?
Local support can take many forms, including partnership with educational institutions. Kentucky State University (KSU) set up a Business Assistance center with special resources to help aquaculture business owners. Among other forms of business assistance, KSU operates a mobile fish processing facility which travels around the areas fish farms to assist them prepare their harvest. In nearby Calloway County Ky., the local school system got took the initiative and successfully applied for a grant to develop curricula for high school students to learn aquaculture and develop this new form of raising food on old small family farms.[vii] This helps the students prepare for eventual studies at KSU’s Aquaculture Program. [viii] And jobs and careers are developed locally, stopping the flow of kids away from home.
In Franklin, Maine, the Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research, part of the University of Maine, operates a “business incubator” with a focus on aquaculture to assist existing and new fish farmers grow their business. The incubator also helps industry partners obtain outside funding for their R&D projects. Unlike other business parks, aquaculture business incubation facilities need supplies of filtered fresh water and sea water, discharge capacity, water treatment, storage and distribution systems and buildings that can handle aquaculture systems. Business owners may use a few tanks for a few days or weeks to carry out specific trials or whole building for multi-year projects. [ix]
In both of these parts of our country, progress was made because local leadership sat down and set some goals. They inventoried their assets, their culture, and their markets. They reached out to businesses and institutions that could support their goals. They measured progress. They did not try to be what they were not. Rather, they looked themselves in the mirror, and decided to work with what they had. And they did, and created a better future for their community.