Clock’s ticking on U.S. aquaculture
By Steven Hedlund, SeafoodSource editor
28 June, 2011
Dave Conley is passionate about aquaculture and its potential to feed America’s growing appetite for fish, provide Americans with jobs and reduce a U.S. seafood deficit of around USD 9 billion.
But he’s also a realist.
Time is running out on the U.S. aquaculture industry. Some may even argue that it has already expired.
I recently had an eye-opening conversation with Conley, senior consultant and founding partner of the Aquaculture Communications Group in Ottawa, recently about the likelihood of aquaculture reaching its potential in North America. Specifically, the probability of aquaculture in North America expanding beyond salmon farming in Canada, catfish farming in the U.S. South and oyster, mussel and clam farming on the east and west coasts.
The No. 1 obstacle facing the U.S. aquaculture industry is the lack of a regulatory framework, resulting in a painfully lengthy and bureaucratic permitting process. The U.S. government took a big step in the right direction early this month when it published its much-anticipated national marine aquaculture policy, giving regional bodies such as the Gulf of Mexico Fishery the guidance and support they require to establish a permitting process for fish farms.
But is it too little too late?
“People ask us, ‘Well, what have you learned by being involved in aquaculture in the United States and Canada?’ And we say, ‘Life is too short. Go to South America. Go to Southeast Asia. Go anywhere else but North America, because it’s not open for business,’” said Conley, who has more than three decades of aquaculture experience.
“The United States has all of the resources, the coastlines, the people, the educational institutions, the technology — all of the ingredients are there. But it’s as if there’s no political or public will to support the growth and development of this industry. To me, it defies logic. There’s no rational explanation why this industry isn’t greater than it is today,” he continued. “Aquaculture has so much going for it, but we just can’t seem to light a fire under the imagination of the American public.”
What often gets lost in the conversation about aquaculture, especially open-ocean finfish farming, is the United States’ need for more seafood. The debate always centers on aquaculture’s environmental impacts, which are minimal, especially compared to industries such as oil and mining.
What isn’t minimal is Asia’s insatiable appetite for seafood. Take China. The population of China’s middle class is forecasted to reach 375 million by 2025, greater than the current U.S. population. The Chinese are growing more fish, but they’re also becoming wealthier and eating more fish. Sourcing seafood on a global scale will become more competitive as time progresses. Where will the United States get its seafood in 2025 if Asia isn’t as dependable of a source as it is now?
In 14 years, either we’ll be looking back at this time as a turning point for the U.S. aquaculture industry or we’ll be lamenting over a missed opportunity.
Click here to view my conversation with Conley.
28 June, 2011