Aquaculture is supplying seafood to a growing demand

Does Michigan have a role to play in producing seafood?

The growing demand for seafood around the world is offering some opportunities for alternative production systems. Harvesting of seafood from wild areas is expected to increase at a rate slower than demand which creates unmet demand. Currently, the consumption of farm-raised fish is nearly equal to wild-caught fish. Aquaculture, the production of aquatic organisms especially for food, is one of the sources to supply this market. The opportunities in aquaculture depend on many factors including species and value.

The market for seafood in the United States relies heavily on imported seafood. According to NOAA’s FishWatch, “In 2011, we imported about 91 percent of the seafood consumed here” with China being the dominant source of farm-raised seafood. An understanding of the choices that consumers make at restaurants is important in selecting a species to produce because about 70 percent of the seafood consumed by Americans is eaten in restaurants. Further data shows that most seafood is consumed by people with incomes in excess of $75,000 per year.

With some understanding of the seafood production and consumption markets, Michigan entrepreneurs are evaluating the business opportunity. Michigan has some assets that are advantageous to the aquaculture industry such as the supply of freshwater and its proximity to major population centers. Conversely, there are also challenges in Michigan such as the very small aquaculture supply and processing industries that exists currently as well as a cool climate that increases energy use.

Seafood species such as shrimp and Tilapia have strong market potential, but these are both warm water species. These species prefer water that is about 85 degrees Fahrenheit. The cost of heating the water most of the year in Michigan creates a challenge. This is not to say that this challenge is insurmountable. It can be reduced by utilizing waste heat from other industries such as in extracting heat from high temperature exhaust or hot water discharge from industrial facilities.

The aquaculture industry offers opportunities and should continue to grow to supply an expanding demand, but new businesses need to be planned and launched with caution due to market realities. Exploration of sources of low cost or waste energy (heat or electricity) combined with a premium-priced market opportunity would allow a reasonable profit. The Michigan State University Product Center and Michigan State University Extension are supportive of this industry in the assistance of businesses and entrepreneurs.

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