Small industry offers huge potential

The Fish Site
by The Fish Site
9 May 2007, at 1:00am

US - Aquaculture is still a small industry in Washington state compared to the scale of the business over the border in neighbouring British Columbia.

Rob Miller, manager for American Gold Seafoods, returns an Atlantic salmon to a rearing pen near Bainbridge Island in this 2006 photo. American Gold operates the only salmon farms in Washington.

There is just one salmon farming company in the state, and it operates eight marine net pens, explained John Kerwin, the hatcheries manager for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

American Gold Seafoods is the only US owned and operated salmon farming operation that also operates a 500-acre hatchery.

The Washington Fish Growers Association, based in Rochester has 40 members and it has been promoting the potential for growth in the region, especially in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. However, environmental concerns, as well as worries about the potential adverse impact of farmed fish on wild salmon, is limiting the growth potential of this industry, even though demand for farmed fish is burgeoning worldwide.

Most US farmed fish is catfish, produced in the Southern states such as Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and Louisiana. And, according to the US Chamber of Commerce, shrimp and tilapia farms are on the increase, but nobody is yet meeting the rapidly increased consumer demand for salmon.

"In the US, most farmed salmon products are from Canada and Chile," said Mary Ellen Walling, executive director of the British Columbia Salmon Farmers Association, based in Campbell River, BC

She said that Canadian salmon farmers produced 82,000 metric tons of salmon last year and 85% of that was exported to the United States.

Chile, however, remains the leading producer and exporter of salmon and salmon products to the US.

Huge global potential
According to a 2006 report from the US Food and Agriculture Organisation, almost half of all fish consumed as food worldwide is raised in fish farms.

Overall, about 43% of all fish now eaten around the world is produced on farms, compared with just 9% in 1980, according to a UN report.

"There's a huge growing demand for salmon. Farmed salmon worldwide is accounts for 70% of the worldwide salmon harvest. Wild salmon harvest rates have been flat," said Walling.

Critics of the industry say fish pens pollute the marine environment and increase the risk of spreading disease to wild fish populations.

Proponents of salmon farms argue that the risks are overstated and farmed fish can take consumer pressure off wild stocks.