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LETTER: 'Lack of understanding' plagues US aquaculture industry

Letter writer says consumers are shocked to learn that the majority of 'wild caught fish' started out in an aquaculture spawning facility.

(The following letter to the editor was sent to IntraFish by Angela Caporelli, president of the US Aquaculture Society (USAS), in response to a column by Editor John Fiorillo, entitled The US aquaculture industry is on life support.)

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On behalf of the US Aquaculture Society (USAS), we appreciate you taking the time to investigate some aspects of the aquaculture industry. However, there is a more in-depth view that needs to be taken.

There have been several commentary pieces and publications that have painted a broad picture of the aquaculture industry in the United States with the overall take-away message that the industry is in a dire situation.

There are numerous positive activities happening in the industry, with many areas of growth. The 2017 edition of NOAA Fisheries of the US indicates the value of the US aquaculture industry has grown from $1.3 billion (€1.2 billion) in 2011 to over $1.4 billion (€1.3 billion) in 2016, with USDA Census of Agriculture reporting $1.77 billion (€1.6 billion) in farm-gate income in 2017.

Examples of recent US aquaculture growth are the shellfish and kelp industries. The US shellfish industry has increased in value from $121 million (€109.6 million) in 2011 to over $340 million (€307.9 million) in 2016. During the same time period, reported “miscellaneous species” have increased from a value of $285 million (€258.1 million) to over $315 million (€285.3 million). The increases in production value provides countless economic impacts to the local communities in which the species are raised.

There is significant growth in kelp and seaweed production that was not in existence a decade ago. Research on kelp and shellfish is ongoing for food, pharmaceuticals and remediation activities in areas such as Long Island Sound, and along the Florida and Louisiana coasts, which have sought innovative solutions in order to better address excessive nutrient loading and biological energy absorption from storm surges.

Unfortunately, many people outside the aquaculture industry think all aquaculture is for food production. We should take this opportunity to educate people in the ways aquaculture interacts with their lives.

Lack of understanding of the industry is evident when people comment that they ”only eat wild caught salmon” or they “don’t eat farmed fish." When asked why they feel this way, they do not have valid responses.

These same consumers are shocked to know that the majority of all those “wild caught fish” started out in an aquaculture spawning facility prior to being released into the wild. Chances are, the aquarium fish in their child’s night-light aquarium, or their first prized trout caught at a private, state or federally-stocked lake, were spawned and raised in captivity and supplied through responsible aquaculture. Approximately 1.7 billion fish are stocked in US waters annually.

An added benefit is that aquaculture can relieve pressure on existing stocks while enhancing natural production. Sport fishermen that purchase live bait have been able to get rosy-reds and fathead minnows thanks to aquaculture. These are just a few areas where education is so important and the responsibility in educating the masses is up to all of us.

You are correct in that there have been some areas of production methods and species that have ebbed and flowed within the aquaculture industry over the years. Therefore, it is easy to see where many think the industry is not doing well. However, there has been growth in industry production and value.

One point alluded to is that there have never been federal programs for farmers to enter into fish farming with incentives. The same incentives that are available to other livestock, such as a watering or fencing programs have never fit the aquaculture model. Nor has there been a comprehensive check-off program, other than a voluntary one for catfish, for a generic marketing program like the beef, pork and poultry industries.

The check-off system within terrestrial livestock marketing would be impossible in aquaculture due to the many types of species, feed requirements and disposition of the products to equate them within one marketing program.

Aquatic livestock have specific and unique benefits such as: the highest feed conversion ratio of all protein production (other than insects), easily digestible and sustainable with limited uses of resources such as land and water. Whether aquatic products are grown in ponds, recirculating aquaculture systems or raceway production systems, aquaculture can produce fresh- or salt-water species at different temperatures, different water quality parameters and different culture methods to meet the ever-changing demand of the consumer and environment.

Thank you for your time and please help your readers, whether they are consumers, bankers, regulators, investment brokers, entrepreneurs or farmers, become aware of the ongoing research and opportunities within the aquaculture industry and potential for the future.

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