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Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Aquaculture can supply much-needed American jobs, but not if the US doesn’t support an industry

As states work to carefully reopen and people are dining outside during this pandemic, seafood is a summer delicacy that’s in high demand at America’s restaurants. Despite that demand, our nation must rely on other countries for plentiful supplies of seafood. In fact, the United States imports 90% of its seafood consumption.

Offshore aquaculture (the process of cultivating seafood in pens submerged in the ocean through sustainable, science-based method) is successfully producing salmon, shellfish, tilapia — you name it. But it’s all happening overseas. There are hundreds of seafood, aqua feed, and aquaculture industry operations from California to Kansas to Maine, just waiting for the chance to produce American-made fish.

The barriers are clear. We do not have a regulated industry in the U.S. because of the lack of a clear permitting process. We must move to support the creation of a policy framework with which to operate offshore aquaculture farms in U.S. waters. The recent executive order on seafood competitiveness from the White House, which supports the expansion of aquaculture, and the introduction of a bill in the House of Representatives in March to establish a predictable regulatory framework and national standards for aquaculture production are two great first steps. Now, we urge the Senate to help pave the way for U.S.-farmed seafood.

Since the executive order was signed, my company, Wenger Manufacturing, an equipment manufacturer that provides extrusion and drying equipment for aquaculture feed in America’s heartland in Kansas, has already seen positive engagement and an uptick in business requests related to the aquaculture industry. Nearly all of the new requests to Wenger for equipment proposals for aqua feed mills have come from the U.S. in the past two months during this economic downturn due to COVID-19. Also, we’ve had several inquiries from people interested in starting feed mills for aquaculture to meet the anticipated increased demand. It’s no coincidence that these all happened after the administration’s move.

Not only is U.S. aquaculture good for my home state of Kansas, but a regulated U.S. industry would enable tens of thousands of jobs nationwide. In a global pandemic, with millions of jobs slashed or put on hold, creating more jobs is a no-brainer. Currently, more than 20 million people around the world are employed in aquaculture jobs, according to The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2020 report. That’s a wealth of opportunity America needs to harness. In fact, a doubling of U.S. aquaculture production could create an additional 50,000 direct and indirect jobs, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. These are jobs that would help coastal and agricultural states.

More jobs translate to a healthier economy, and a healthier economy is precisely what America needs right now. By positioning the U.S. as a leader in aquaculture production, we will reap the benefits of an industry with strong governance, including regulations, education, and enforcement. And this, in turn, will yield an increased consumption of aquaculture seafood.

American aquaculture meets only 5-7% of our current demand for seafood. With global demand expected to increase by 70% over the next 30 years, offshore aquaculture will complement wild fish harvesting to meet the rising demand for healthy and sustainable protein sources in a resource-efficient way. From aqua feed production to seafood producers, restaurants, and chefs, now, more than ever, is the time to foster the expansion of the industry in America.

Jesse Mitchell is the director of sales, aqua feed division, at Wenger Manufacturing in Sabetha, Kansas. He is a member of Stronger America Through Seafood.

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