The seafood industry is at crossroads in America. The Covid-19 pandemic disrupted the seafood supply chain distribution, causing severe financial setbacks to suppliers and distributors. And while businesses are starting to rebound, the U.S. seafood industry remains at a significant disadvantage: it relies almost solely on international imports. In fact, 90 percent of seafood that Americans consume is imported. It’s another reason seafood is so expensive at the grocery store. The U.S. is missing an opportunity to create a competitive seafood industry with new jobs and a boost to the economy when it’s needed most.

As the country reopens after the pandemic, and restaurant dining continues to increase, seafood will play a vital role in feeding America. And, the worldwide demand for seafood will only continue to grow. In fact, the Economics of Aquaculture Policy and Regulation says 40 million tons of fish will be needed to meet demand by 2030. Plus, with the world population projected to reach 9 billion by 2050, according to the National Research Council, America will need a diverse set of food sources to meet these needs.

This is where an American aquaculture industry can fill critical food, nutrition and economic needs in many farming and fishing communities across the U.S.  Aquaculture, the raising of finfish, shellfish and other marine life, is the fastest growing food production sector in the world and has been responsible for nearly all of the global seafood supply growth since the 1990s. With half of all seafood consumed today being farm raised, aquaculture presents a unique opportunity to build an American seafood future that can bring us through this challenging time and support a diverse workforce and provide healthful, locally sourced protein for Americans.

An aquaculture industry can bring much needed jobs to many states. Those include not only water farmers in the working waterfront communities, but workers on the production assembly line, packaging and distribution positions and sales and marketing jobs. Additionally, land farmers are needed to grow soybean, corns and peas and other products that are used in fish feed. Emerging technology jobs, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, which enable sustainability and measurement, are also in high demand.

As a leader in aquaculture technology and fish feed production, the U.S. should lead the world in aquaculture management instead of enabling many American businesses to invest in other countries.

To remedy these hurdles, action from Congress is needed. Proposed legislation would establish a clear permitting process for U.S. marine aquaculture that also prioritizes the health of the environment and the health of Americans. It would establish standards for offshore aquaculture, similar to those for commercial fishing, including siting, monitoring and gaining public input prior to granting new permits. I urge our elected officials to support legislation that would enable responsible development of American offshore aquaculture.

It's hard to argue against increased production of healthful, sustainable, and affordable seafood in our communities. By prioritizing domestic aquaculture, we support the growth of an American seafood community that is resilient to economic and climate changes and is part of a holistic approach to a sustainable food strategy. Now more than ever, we need local food and local job opportunities for all Americans. Aquaculture can fill these needs.

Sean J. O’Scannlain founded Fortune International in Bensenville, Illinois in 2001. Fortune has grown into the Midwest’s leader in premium quality seafood and gourmet products. Today, Fortune International employs over 370 people and is the parent company of Fortune Fish & Gourmet, Fortune Imports, Chef Martin, Coastal Seafoods and Lobster Gram. 

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