By Max Holtzman -    

The United States imports nearly 90% of the seafood we consume, over half of which is produced through aquaculture (farm raised seafood products). While the unparalleled success of our terrestrial growers, ranchers and producers facilitated U.S. exports which resulted in an estimated U.S. agricultural trade surplus of over $32 billion for FY 2012, there was a trade deficit approaching $11 billion for seafood products in 2011.  Why is this important? We know empirically that every $1 billion in agricultural exports supports approximately 7,800 jobs here at home.President Obama directed this Administration to double its exports by 2015 and we are well on our way to doing that.Aquaculture has the potential to effectively contribute to increasing U.S. exports over the next decade, providing new jobs and economic opportunities for those in rural America.

The opportunities for growth and domestic demand generators in aquaculture are real.  There is an evolving shift in dynamics affecting exports from the Asian region to the United States.  First, as populations and incomes in Asian countries rise and improve, there is a corresponding increase in demand for proteins.  This translates to more aquaculture products staying in the Asian region to meet domestic demand.  Second, dynamics of the “value of the dollar” deem it less attractive to export to the United States.  Finally, there is an almost insatiable demand for U.S. agricultural products for several reasons: We produce the safest, highest quality products in the world and the reliability of our supply is second to none.  The soybean industry is seeing rapid growth and opportunity in more plant-based aqua-feeds, and is making important domestic investments in this space.  The combination of these dynamics presents an incredible opportunity for growth in the domestic aquaculture industry and new economic opportunities for those in rural America.

Aquaculture also plays a critical role in nourishing a rapidly growing world population.  As the world population just tipped the 7 billion mark with estimates of reaching 9 billion in the next few decades, we must find economically and environmentally sustainable ways to produce more food.   Current estimates show we must produce a shocking 60-70% more food than we produce on earth today just to feed this expansion in population, while we currently fight to properly nourish the 870 million children, women and men that go to sleep hungry every night.    The conversion efficiency and long-term sustainability of protein production through modern aquaculture are important factors in this effort to combat what is perhaps one of the greatest challenges facing the global community today.

So what is inhibiting this growth domestically and what can we do about it?  First, there must be an understanding and acceptance that start-up of an aquaculture operation is treated no differently than any other beginning agriculture enterprise.  Second, multi-disciplinary research in aquaculture should be expanded to improve production efficiency, economic viability and long-term sustainability through new transformational advances in genetics, nutrition, health and technology.  Third, when a natural disaster occurs that affects aquaculture growers, these growers should have access to disaster assistance programs as others in agriculture.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there must be a streamlining of regulations and permitting by government agencies that are science-based and recognize the unique aspects of successfully integrating aquaculture operations into our diverse aquatic environments.  The USDA, Department of Commerce, Department of Interior, Army Corps of Engineers, and Environmental Protection Agency have taken the first important steps in this area working closely with the aquaculture industry, but much work remains to be done. 

Although I’m not one to wager, I know this:  Never bet against the American farmer.  The genius, ingenuity, passion and just plain hard work of the American farmer are responsible for making the United States the most productive agriculture economy in the world.  There is no reason it should be any different for the aquaculture industry. 


About the author: Max Holtzman is the Senior Advisor to the United States Secretary of Agriculture