Assessing Iowa Aquaculture’s Opportunities and Challenges

12-18-2014 in Aquaculture

The opportunity to diversify and create a new income stream is hooking farmers on aquaculture.

Global demand for seafood is growing, even at a time when U.S. seafood consumption is declining, noted Chris Weeks, a regional aquaculture specialist with the North Central Regional Aquaculture Center and Michigan State University.

While the world aquaculture market totaled $135 billion and 66.5 million tons in 2002, this is projected to increase by millions of pounds to $330 billion by 2030. “Demand for seafood is going up, due to the growing global population and the increased need for protein,” Weeks said. “The key question is whether farmed seafood is mankind’s best option for a safe, healthy protein supply.”

A number of factors seem to indicate yes. Farmed seafood is sustainable and addresses the challenge of overfishing natural seafood supplies. It’s also efficient. While it takes 6.8 pounds of feed to produce one pound of beef, 2.9 pounds of feed to produce one pound of pork and 1.7 pounds of feed to produce one pound of poultry, it only takes 1.1 pounds of feed to produce one pound of fish, Weeks said.

Although global aquaculture production overtook global beef production starting in 2010, seafood consumption has been dropping closer to home. “Americans ate 2 pounds more seafood [per capita] in 2004 than now,” said Weeks, who attributes this to taste preferences, affordability issues and negative, conflicting messages about seafood in the media. “Consumers are told to eat more fish as part of a healthy diet, for example, but they hear frightening messages about fish contaminated with mercury.”

What local buyers are saying

How can aquaculture specialists combat these challenges? Focus on educating retailers and chefs, Weeks said. Not only has the U.S. Department of Agriculture continued to highlight the health benefits of seafood, but the National Restaurant Association recently named locally-sourced meat and seafood as a top culinary trend.

Chef Stew Hinerfeld of the Green Belt Bed and Breakfast in Ames praises locally-grown barramundi for its taste. “Barramundi has a high protein level like salmon and a similar mouth feel to salmon, with the finish of ocean bass or mahi mahi,” said Hinerfeld, who served a barramundi entrée with lobster sauce to the more than 150 guests at the Iowa Aquaculture Conference, which was hosted by the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers (CSIF).

Hinerfeld favors fresh, Iowa-grown, biosecure seafood like barramundi. “I get an incredible response when people find out this fish is grown here. If you choose to be part of aquaculture in the future, I’m your market.”

Getting chefs excited about locally-grown seafood is a key to expanding Iowa’s aquaculture industry, said John Rohrs, seafood manager for PDI, a food distributor and wholly owned subsidiary of Hy-Vee, Inc. “Fish that was at the farm less than 24 hours ago sells itself.”

PDI also encourages vendors and suppliers to acquire certain certifications from organizations like FishWise to ensure consumers receive the freshest, safest seafood possible. “This is a great opportunity, and I believe farmed-raised aquaculture is the future,” Rohrs said.

To watch the video from the Iowa Aquaculture Conference, visit www.supportfarmers.com/aquaculture.

About the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers

The Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers has helped more than 2,800 livestock and poultry farm families over the past 10 years successfully and responsibly grow their farms. CSIF helps families interpret rules and regulations, site new livestock and poultry barns, enhance relationships with neighbors, and implement best management practices for livestock and poultry farmers across the state of Iowa at no charge. For more information, call 800-932-2436 or visit www.supportfarmers.com.

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