Aquaculture: Part of the Future of the Seafood Industry

By: John Connelly, President, National Fisheries Institute

Americans’ vision of aquaculture might be a scene from an old sci-fi
thriller about an underwater universe of farmed plants and animals. In
reality, farmers have been growing water plants and animals for
thousands of years. Consumers might be surprised to learn that
aquaculture is the fastest-growing segment of agriculture in the United

Whether they know it or not, five of the top 10 species of fish
Americans like to eat are at least partially farmed. That list includes
famed shrimp, farmed salmon, catfish, tilapia and clams. The global
impact of aquaculture is even more dramatic. The National Marine
Fisheries Service (NMFS) reports global aquaculture harvests increased
from about 13 million metric tons in 1991 to 42 million metric tons in
2003, a 340 percent growth.

With aquaculture’s significant reach into economies around the world
and right here in the United States, the National Fisheries Institute
(NFI) counts it among its top priorities for 2005. We are committed to
promoting public policy where aquaculture is a complement to wild
capture fisheries, whether in the United States or elsewhere.

Products created through aquaculture are sustainable sources of food
that help seafood buyers meet the ever-growing demand for seafood
around the world. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization
(FAO) has identified a substantial gap in the the industry’s ability to
meet the growing demand for healthy seafood products. According to the
FAO, there are 100 million metric tons of fish available in the wild,
yet the global demand for these products is about 180 million metric
tons. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that
between 1980 and 2000, the value of U.S. aquaculture production rose
more than 400 percent, to nearly $1 billion.

Responsible aquaculture practices allow increasing numbers of
Americans to enjoy healthy fish meals. We all know balanced nutrition
is an important issue to many Americans. But over the past couple of
years, the aquaculture industry has been bombarded by political
activist groups trying to turn consumers away from farmed seafood and
forego an important part of a balanced diet.

Now NFI is stepping in to tell the truth to Americans about
aquaculture. NFI recently strengthened its communications and advocacy
team, which has started to forcefully counter messages from political
activists through thoughtful dialogue with the news media and remind
Americans that seafood remains an important part of a healthy diet and

NFI’s ocean to table membership diversity allows us to speak with
authority to lawmakers and impact public policy in a way that will help
secure a healthy future for all Americans. Now, more than ever, we have
evidence that fish is an essential part of a healthy diet and we must
never lose sight of that important fact.

Our members are committed to helping ensure these products continue
to be a sustainable and environmentally sound resource for future
generations. That’s why NFI and the Global Aquaculture Alliance
developed the Principles for Responsible Fisheries in 1997, to help
ensure our industry does not adversely affect surrounding ecosystems or
damage native species.

Aquaculture is a significant part of our industry’s future. We will
need to grow about 40 to 45 percent of our fish annually to meet
consumer demand while protecting wild harvests. An informed, educated
and involved consumer will sustain the seafood industry and its
products well into the future.