COVID created winners and losers in Michigan aquaculture

A recent assessment by Michigan State University finds while the state is surrounded by the world’s largest freshwater system, more than 60 percent of aquaculture is raised in ponds.

“It’s really more on this farm-scale level and we really could produce a lot more, about 80 percent of our seafood in the U.S. is imported.”

Lauren Jescovitch studied how the aquaculture industry was impacted by the pandemic and was disappointed to learn the state with the largest shoreline in the continental U.S. only has 52 fish farms.

“Where’s all of our fish coming from, well really Canada, or Asia, or some other country, but wouldn’t you like to catch fish from right here?” she says.

The state markets 23 species of fish for stocking, food, and bait.  About a quarter of the total production is for consumption. Jescovitch says regulations are the number one limiting factor and, when compared to other protein sources, are tenfold.

“It’s very complex and very challenging,” she says.

During the onset of COVID-19 as restaurants shut down, she says producers had to shift their markets, unfortunately, some private businesses lost up to a third of their sales, and some left the industry.

On the other hand, aquaculture businesses that supported commercial fishing had a different response.

“If the fish was produced for say stocking or fee fishing, that market exploded,” she says.

Jescovitch says the biggest barrier to expanding aquaculture in Michigan is defining what it is and benefits to consumers.  She says the assessment will be used to help identify areas that need to be improved for the industry to grow.

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