Reel deal? Entities consider U.P. fish farming

ESCANABA – Because of an increasing world population and the resulting need for more food, now is the prime time to invest in fish farming in the Upper Peninsula.

That was the message relayed Wednesday by three parties interested in doing feasibility studies on developing the aquaculture industry locally. The vision of the project was presented at Escanaba City Hall during a monthly meeting of municipal officials and other representatives from throughout Delta County.

“The time is right – economically and politically,” said Dave Anthony speaking on behalf of the Hannahville Indian Community. Hannahville has entered into a memo of understanding with two other entities to explore the development of fish farms.

The other two interested parties are Pisces Industries of Escanaba, a manufacturer of fish-processing equipment, and the Delta County Economic Development Alliance (DCEDA).

Vickie Schwab, DCEDA director, commented fish farms could offer economic possibilities for the county and the U.P. to capitalize on raising fish for food to meet future demands.

“This opportunity is all about protein,” said Schwab, offering a definition on aquaculture. “It’s about raising fish, plants and other aquatic organisms in controlled conditions to produce a marketable product.”

Because of the world’s growing population, the global need for food is expected to double by the year 2050, she said, noting the United States’ role in the aquaculture industry.

Currently, the U.S. supplies only 1 percent of the world’s total aquaculture production, she said. On the other hand, in 2010, the nation imported more than $5 billion in seafood.

Anthony said, with the driving economic factors of a growing world population and an increasing need for food production, the aquaculture industry is “right at the crest” of taking off and expanding.

“The Hannahville Indian Community has the ability to make this happen,” he said. The tribe has the administrative capacity and the financial resources to invest in the aquaculture industry which is gaining the attention of state and federal agencies, according to Anthony.

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has hired a consulting firm to evaluate aquaculture opportunities in the state, he said. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is looking at doubling its aquaculture export by 2015, he added.

Pisces Vice President Matt Wastell said the U.P. has the necessary natural resources for an aquaculture industry, including fresh water lakes. He added once aquaculture jobs are established here, they will be permanent here.

Schwab said jobs created by the development of aquaculture include sellers of fingerlings, hatchery workers, equipment manufacturers, suppliers, and other spin-off jobs.

Schwab said the Central U.P. Aquaculture is excited about the potential of fish farms in the region. The group welcomes community feedback on the idea and support for feasibility studies.

Two studies are being planned. One report will determine what hatchery technology equipment is available to raise fish fingerlings to support a commercial operation. The other will offer business plans for three systems to raise fish including small and large operations.

Fish can be raised in a flow-through system where fish are kept in passing water. Another system involves a cage-based operation where fish are enclosed and placed in a body of water. Another way to raise fish is in a recirculating system such as an indoor tank where water is refreshed.

Schwab said the feasibility studies will focus on raising species which are native to the region such as perch, whitefish and trout.

Anthony offered additional comments after the meeting, stating the potential economic benefits from fish farms especially considering the world’s increasing population.

“I don’t think people have a handle on the population growth. This is an opportunity for the area to have a stake in the future economy. The world is changing and we can fit into the mode of opportunity here,” Anthony said.