The seafood industry has long been a vital economic force in Massachusetts, generating $14 billion yearly in sales and employing more than 127,000. But despite the strength of the industry here and our high fishing grounds and strong ports, the Bay State nevertheless imports far more seafood than it produces.
It’s a problem across the country that’s getting worse each year. Today the U.S. imports 90% of the seafood we eat, and it’s clear that wild capture fisheries alone can’t meet our increasing need for seafood. It’s time for the United States take action to diversify our food supply by encouraging development of the nascent aquaculture industry.
Aquaculture — or fish farming — needs to play a bigger role in producing sustainable protein for our growing population. And it can do so as a supplement to the fishing industry — not in competition with it.
New legislation introduced in Congress on Oct. 28, the bipartisan Advancing the Quality and Understanding of American Aquaculture (AQUAA) Act, would sustain growth of an American aquaculture industry in Massachusetts and nationwide.
Aquaculture in the U.S. has been hampered by an inconsistent and intimidating regulatory scenery, which currently involves an alphabet soup of state and federal agencies. It’s confusing, time-consuming and expensive, with up-front administrative costs for a new fish farming project capable of creeping into the seven figure range.
The AQUAA Act would fix that by establishing national standards for offshore aquaculture and putting in place a clear regulatory system for the farming of fish in the U.S. exclusive economic zone. Creating a well-defined regulatory course of action and timeline will reduce risk and help stimulus investment in the industry.
The benefits of a strong aquaculture industry in our state and to the complete seafood community would be enormous. An increase in fish farming will bolster the Bay State’s economy and sustain a different workforce. In coastal states like ours, jobs would increase not just for those farming fish but in waterfront communities where work is often seasonally dependent. With increased seafood production, jobs will open in manufacturing, processing and dispensing, in addition as sales and marketing. Workers with backgrounds in artificial intelligence and machine learning, which permit sustainability and measurement, will also be in high need.
It’s these technologies that have helped make fish farming a commercially viable way to produce clean, healthy seafood in a manner that’s good for the ecosystem. At my company, Innovasea, innovation and science are at the heart of our business. As an aquaculture technology company, we produce egg-to-harvest aquaculture systems that make open ocean aquaculture a reality — and which rely heavily on AI and other progressive technologies. Our environmental sensors, biomass cameras and underwater feeding system help farmers satisfy their fish more efficiently, optimize production and save money.
Unfortunately, there are many outdated and misguided myths surrounding aquaculture. The truth is that fish farming is a proven, sustainable form of food production. Scientific research shows that offshore aquaculture, when done carefully and managed responsibly, has little environmental impact. And, when it comes to shellfish, species like mussels are inherently sustainable because they help clean the ocean floor.
Fish farming is the fastest growing food sector in the world, and the U.S. needs to embrace this thriving industry. We have the resources and technological know-how to be a world leader in responsible aquaculture, but the without of a clear, predictable federal permitting course of action prevents viable offshore aquaculture projects from attracting investors or getting off the ground. I can tell you firsthand that there are plenty of entrepreneurs poised to invest in this emerging industry here in the U.S., but they keep getting thwarted by a complicate regulatory course of action, an alphabet soup of state and federal agencies and a general misunderstanding of fish farming.
I encourage our federal representatives to sustain the expansion of aquaculture here in Massachusetts and nationwide. Investing in different food supplies such as aquaculture and increasing our food security ahead of the next global pandemic is a necessity for the commonwealth and our nation.
David Kelly is CEO and chief technology officer of Boston-based Innovasea and a member of Stronger America by Seafood.
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