Aquaculture— the cultivation of fish and shellfish for food—is the fastest growing segment of global food production. Experts place the industry’s value at more than $160 billion, and by 2030 production of farmed fish is projected to globally reach 120 million tons, an increase of over 30 percent from 2018, according to industry experts. This growth dovetails on the explosive growth in protein products, of which aquaculture undoubtedly plays a role to help meet the growing protein demand from consumers.
There is great potential to capitalize on this explosion in demand within Minnesota to create employment and economic impact for related sectors in the form of fish feed, fish health and byproduct utilization. In response, food fish producers and those with aligned interests in growing the aquaculture industry in Minnesota, are looking for solutions to improve viability.
Many factors drive the growth in the industry, including technological developments, increased production, and a growing understanding of the health benefits of fish consumption. Aquaculture will also play a major role in feeding the world’s population. Many regions around the globe, including the United States have invested significant time and resources into aquaculture creating opportunities for joint ventures and partnerships in Minnesota.
These factors present exciting opportunities for Minnesota’s agricultural community. To better understand the current landscape and to strategize how the state’s ag sector can capitalize, the Agriculture Utilization Research Institute recently published an original research report on the state’s aquaculture industry as part of the organization’s Ag Innovation Partnership (AIP) program.
The report illustrates several key findings. It also identified issues and action steps that should be addressed for an aquaculture industry to grow and thrive in Minnesota. There are ample reasons why an aquaculture industry can succeed in Minnesota. Consumers are interested in buying and eating more fish, and they are increasingly looking for “locally-grown” options for shrimp, salmon, walleye and other species.
A thriving industry doesn’t just benefit aquaculture business owners. There are positive outcomes for related industries and for other Minnesota grown crops. “Supporting a burgeoning ag industry like aquaculture goes to the heart of AURI’s mission of championing value-added agriculture to the economic benefit of the state and the region,” said AURI’s Executive Director Shannon Schlecht.
“We have seen a lot more interest from clients in the aquaculture space in the past few years. Growing this industry in Minnesota has tremendous potential to benefit producers and local economies,” Schlecht said. “This guide compiles critical information in one place to help businesses get started and grow. With the right tools and support, there is no reason why the aquaculture industry cannot take hold in Minnesota and become a driver of economic activity for Minnesota like the poultry, turkey and pork markets that we have already.”
The right conditions are in place for an aquaculture market to accelerate rapidly in Minnesota. There are many ways AURI can support this development, said Jen Wagner-Lahr, AURI’s Senior Director of Commercialization.
She envisions a system where aquaculture ripples throughout the state’s economy. Minnesota crops are used to reduce fishmeal imports. Technology developed by Minnesota businesses can help producers effectively raise and process fish. The fish waste created in the farms could have many different uses as a coproduct or a renewable source of energy. Food scientists at AURI’s facilities could help producers with labeling and storage issues and help educate the public on how to prepare fish and shellfish.
“There is definitely a ripple effect for other Minnesota crops and coproducts which is the name of the game we play. Anytime we can support a project that finds new markets and new opportunities, it is an easy decision to get involved,” said Wagner-Lahr “What we are seeing now is a lot more people are involved and stepping up to support this opportunity. And when we have projects like this that are starting to gather a lot of steam, we try to create a hub for the activity. That is where AURI can really add value.”
The research will serve as a resource and educational tool for decision makers, industry, academia and others to expand market opportunities in Minnesota, resulting in a positive shift in public perception, and serving to inspire successive projects with clients and stakeholder partners. In addition to the industry study, AURI also conducted a consumer research survey to better understand current consumption behaviors, perceptions of food fish and industry development, and market potential.
More than 50 percent of respondents said they would buy more, and pay more, for locally grown fish and seafood. A majority also said that Minnesota-raised fish is more sustainable and safer to eat than fish raised outside of the state. More than 80 percent said aquaculture facilities are good for the state’s economy. Nearly half of respondents are interested in learning more about fish raised in the Minnesota.
“The results show that there is a pretty strong interest in eating more fish among consumers, but also indicated that there are some barriers that need to be addressed in order for that to happen,” said Harold Stanislawski, AURI’s Business Development Director. “We need to do more outreach and we need to dig deeper into how we market locally grown fish to consumers. AURI definitely has a role in those discussions to help grow and connect the market, that we know exists, with the locally raised fish and seafood.”
Recommendations and Next Steps
The report suggested hiring a state aquaculture coordinator to provide support and resources to help ensure producers are up to date on everything from best management practices to regulatory information. It also concluded that there needs to be a favorable investment framework for businesses to encourage innovation and development and access to capital.
Work should be undertaken to shape awareness, attitudes and understanding of the availability of Minnesota farm-raised fish with consumers, grocery stores, restaurants, and the financial and agricultural communities.
One key step is already underway. The state of Minnesota, through the Department of Agriculture, recently brought together a group of policy makers, stakeholders, producers, researchers and business development specialists to chart a path forward for the aquaculture sector through a formal Minnesota Aquaculture Plan. AURI is part of the working group and the recently conducted research and consumer survey report will be a central resource guiding the group’s efforts.
“AURI’s report is so important because it sets the framework of the opportunity and the hurdles that we have to overcome. We will continue to build on this work,” said Clarence Bischoff, President of the Minnesota Aquaculture Association. “With good market research and some additional funding streams, we can carefully develop new aquaculture companies that can handle the cost of the startup process and quickly grow and start providing good paying jobs and producing a healthy, quality source of food. We believe this can one day become a billion-dollar industry in Minnesota.”
In addition to a statewide report, Bischoff also hopes to establish a statewide Aquaculture Resource Center to help marshal resources and provide additional support. He also wants to work with the state’s colleges and universities to establish training programs for those interested in pursuing a career in aquaculture.
Ag Innovation Partnership
Minneapolis-based research and marketing firm Russell Herder compiled the aquaculture report as part of AURI’s Ag Innovation Partnership program.
“Globally, aquaculture is one of the fastest-growing food industries, with more and more consumers gravitating toward this source of protein. Bolstering the U.S. food fish industry could offer long-term food security benefits while presenting an opportunity for Minnesota’s aquaculture industry to become an even more significant resource for supplying fresh, unique products to consumers,” said Carol Russell, the CEO of Russell Herder. “The research study examines consumer opinions and preferences, and how these insights can provide actionable information to inform and support the expansion of work already underway across the industry.”
AURI’s AIP program is a competitive process. Each year AURI puts out a call for submissions from businesses, researchers, entrepreneurs and producers, encouraging them to submit a proposal. AURI will begin accepting proposals for the fifth year of the AIP program this fall. Project selection is based on how the proposal meets an agriculture sector need.