The Optimistic Futurist: Nothing fishy about aquaculture

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 24, 2012

By Francis P. Koster
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 like “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 30-40 years. A fillet of orange roughy at the store is probably from a fish that is at least 50 years old. When 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 of the “mom fish,” even populations of very deep-sea fish are falling sharply.
In 2010, imported fish made up 86 percent 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 percent 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 N.C. fish farming production 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, it raises tilapia year-round, using nine 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, whose members share the cost of marketing and other overhead.
A second example is the American Prawn Cooperative in Walstonburg. The prawn is a freshwater shrimp that grows in large outdoor ponds. The 9-year-old business has been expanding about 10 percent per year, using no chemicals, and it recycles most of its water.
New entrepreneurs can start small and still be profitable, growing like Bell Aquaculture of Albany, Ind. Started as a backyard operation in 1994, Bell now produces 2.2 million pounds of yellow perch yearly while employing a staff of 40 — again with no chemicals in the feed. Bell uses one-half of 1 percent 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 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.
The Cooperative Extension Service 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:
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.
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Francis P. Koster, Ed. D., lives in Kannapolis. For more information, visit his website: