Q&A: Max Holtzman, USDA
Why is the U.S. aquaculture industry so vital to the country’s economy?
In the U.S., we import about 90 percent of the seafood we eat, and we have a trade deficit in imports of more than USD 11 billion. If you compare that to terrestial agriculture in the U.S., we have a trade surplus of more than USD 40 billion. That is unacceptable to me. We should be leading the industry in aquaculture, just as we do in every other segment of agriculture. We should be out-innovating, out-creating, out-growing and out-exporting, every other country in the world. There is a lot of success in aquaculture in the U.S. right now. Some of the strongest sectors are salmon aquaculture and shellfish production is doing very well. We are seeing some light for the catfish industry in the southern U.S., trout production is steady, and we are seeing new products being developed — such as an exciting one in net pen-reared steelhead. But, there still is a potential for much greater growth and it shouldn’t take years and millions of dollars for a company to start an operation.
How can the U.S. aquaculture industry grow?
There are several fronts we need to attack. The first is making sure there is an understanding in the USDA, throughout the federal families, and elsewhere, that aquaculture is agriculture. The growers of agriculture products should be treated no differently. These growers need to have the same access to programs at USDA and other federal government programs that any other startup business operation would. If you are starting a small business, you should have the same opportunities as if you are starting a small aquaculture business. You should have the same access to disaster assistance.
How is the government streamlining regulations and access to permits for aquaculture operations?
We recently announced, through the White House National Oceans Policy, a shellfish permit streamlining process and next up is marine finfish. We have made a lot of huge steps, but there is a lot of work left to be done. We need consistency among decision-making around the U.S. by different agencies and different offices of the same agencies. We have all of our federal partners at the table and talking about this, and each of them understands that this is not just about the industry itself, but it is about jobs…and it is about exports.
How can the aquaculture industry handle some of the criticisms and controversies it faces, including EMS issues?
We are doing research with NOAA and other agencies to solve or prevent problem. We are trying to figure EMS out. There is also a lot of work on reducing the amount of marine captured fish [in feeds], and moving towards soy-based and plant-based feeds. One thing I want to make sure doesn’t happen is that aquaculture doesn’t become the scapegoat for marine fish being used. You need to start with managing your fishery. That will determine how much can be taken out of the fishery for all kinds of things, including for feed and nutraceuticals. Then, you allow industries to compete among themselves for the products of those fisheries. That will ensure a sustainable fishery for future years.