Is fish farming the future?

ESCANABA – Is fish farming in the future for the Upper Peninsula?

Development of fish farms in the Central U.P. is being discussed by interested parties seeking funding for feasibility studies. Information on the proposal will be presented during the noon joint governmental meeting at Escanaba City Hall Wednesday.

The idea for aquaculture in the local region spawned about a year ago when the Delta County Economic Development Alliance (DCEDA) and Pisces, a local manufacturer of fish-processing equipment, discussed the potential industry, explained Vickie Schwab, DCEDA director.

The Hannahville Indian Community also joined the discussion, Schwab added, explaining the community’s youth services program already has a perch-growing curriculum in place.

Together the three formed a “memo of understanding” to bring the new industry to the region, she said.

According to the Central U.P. Aquaculture executive summary on the proposal, Hannahville Indian Community is interested in expanding its business opportunities into the aquaculture industry. Pisces brings the expertise to do the research. The DCEDA will connect workers and businesses.

“Farming of fish would provide a protein source and expand the strong agriculture base in Delta County,” said Schwab. “We’re looking at species native to the Great Lakes – perch, whitefish and trout.”

The first step will be to conduct a feasibility study to determine if hatchery technology exists to raise fish fingerlings to support a commercial operation. New hatchery systems called “Bioflac” for yellow perch and whitefish farms will be considered, said Schwab.

The second step will be a feasibility study on expanding land-based and cage culture production of whitefish and trout in the U.P., including a business plan, she explained.

Both studies will explore fish farming as an environmentally-safe sustainable source of food, said Schwab, noting the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development is interested in aquaculture. One trout farm is currently operating downstate, she said.

In 2010, seafood consumption worldwide was at 4.8 billion tons; seaport imports to the United States totaled more than $5 billion, said Schwab.

The Michigan Aquaculture Association predicts the state can develop current fish farming production from $5 million to $100 million during the next 10 years while the industry’s current 100 jobs could grow to 1,500 in the same time period, she said.

During Wednesday’s meeting in Escanaba, presenters will offer information to garner interest and support for the proposed feasibility studies as well as listen to what people have to say about the industry, said Schwab.