What Industry Can Create Economic Growth While Protecting and Strengthening Natural Resources?

What industry can provide jobs and income in rural Minnesota, stimulate local businesses that produce equipment and provide services, contribute to tourism and recreation, bring nutritious food products to consumers, and create an awareness of our water resources in the land of 10,000 lakes? The industry is aquaculture!

Aquaculture is the farming and nurturing of aquatic animals and plants. Methods range from extensive to intensive depending upon such factors as the amount of environmental control, the amount of feeding, and the investment required to carry out the operation. Aquaculture includes a wide range of technologies from raising crayfish for consumption to producing walleye fingerlings for stocking in lakes and rivers. Aquaculture can enhance tourism and sportfishing by providing fish for our supermarkets or restaurants and by raising game fish for strengthening natural fish populations. At the same time, it can provide new jobs and economic growth for Minnesotans.

According to 1992 figures from the Department of Agriculture, the aquaculture industry nearly doubles every two years. In 1990, the industry generated $2,634,911 for producers, compared to $4,619,859 in 1992. The greatest gains were made in the food fish and bait fish segments. Thirty-one different counties in Minnesota have at least one aquaculture operation. The wide spread distribution of operations demonstrates the potential for state-wide economic development that aqua-culture represents. The world-wide demand for fish and sea food is growing by leaps and bounds, and the harvest of the wild fisheries of the world cannot keep up. This sets up an ideal scenario for tremendous growth of an emerging industry in Minnesota.

In 1992, Minnesota food fish production consisted primarily of chinook salmon and rainbow trout. They accounted for 99% of the total food fish sales. Other species being farmed for food fish in Minnesota include Atlantic salmon, bighead buffalo, bowfin, brook trout, brown trout, bullhead, carp, channel catfish, coho salmon, crayfish, lake trout, tilapia, and whitefish. Although current technology does not make it economically feasible to raise walleye to an acceptable size for the food fish market, research continues on ways to cut production costs. Research on yellow perch indicates promising possibilities, and alternative species such as tilapia which provide comparable table fare, can be economically grown for commercial food sale. Tilapia has the potential to rival catfish production in southern states. The value for food fish sales increased over 300% in two years! Food fish production accounts for 43% of Minnesota's total aqua-culture sales.

Minnesotans consumed about 65.1 million pounds of fish and seafood in 1990. Currently aquaculture provides only 0.3% of that figure. Minnesota's trade deficit on fish and seafood amounts to $130 million per year! Although much of the fish and seafood consumed in Minnesota, like shrimp and tuna, may never be economically produced here, with the support of coordinated research and promotional programs, many species of fish may. It looks as though if the industry can overcome present technological problems, there is a very definite market to be filled.

Beyond producing fish for food consumption, thereby reducing pressure on natural fish populations, the aquaculture industry is also having a very positive effect on our economy and natural resources through the production of game fish for stocking. Many private aquaculturists are currently producing game fish fry and fingerlings in cooperation with states through the Midwest. Fish for stocking account for 13% of the aquaculture industry's sales in 1992, of which 65% were walleye. Other game fish currently produced for stocking in Minnesota lakes and rivers include largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill sunfish, muskellunge, rainbow trout, brook trout, yellow perch, and northern pike.