Aquaculture offers way to expand exports, say business owners
July 15, 2003
Washington's aquaculture growers can provide jobs and increase export revenues if encouraged to expand, several business owners told lawmakers.
The industry also needs a more cohesive marketing plan and simpler regulations, business leaders told the Legislative Committee on Economic Development and International Relations and Lt. Gov. Brad Owen during a meeting Thursday in Manchester.
There's a virtually bottomless demand for what the state's aquaculture industry can produce, said Peter Becker, the owner of Shelton-based Little Skookum Shellfish Growers, L.L.C.
Of the 142.1 million tons of fish produced worldwide during a given year, the United States accounts for only 4 percent.
Becker believes farmed fish and shellfish can be used to reduce the country's trade deficit in seafood and help grow the state's $500 million in seafood exports.
At the same time, it can add jobs in coastal areas that lost employment as traditional fishing and timber industries declined.
Aquaculture businesses already provide more than 2,400 jobs in coastal communities, Becker said. In Pacific County, aquaculture is the largest employer; in Mason County, it's the second-largest employer.
Business owners outlined proposals they think would help the industry grow. They included:
• Hiring an aquaculture coordinator who would be responsible for coordinating the more than 50 agencies that regulate the industry.
• Maintaining funds for the Washington State University veterinary school, which runs the only testing lab in the state that can certify fish for European export.
• Promoting other pro-business policies, such as reducing the minimum wage and cutting permitting backlogs.
Conrad Mahnken, director of the National Marine Fisheries Service's laboratory at Manchester, said industry regulation is just one of a host of challenges in aquaculture.
He said science still is developing its understanding of how to restock depleted fish runs and how to gauge the environmental impacts of fin and shellfish farms.
On a tour of the Manchester lab, the lawmakers looked at how researchers are using aquaculture science to help endangered fish species and improve the quality of farm-raised fish.
Scientists at the lab rear endangered fish, including several types of salmon and yellow eye rockfish, in what look like above-ground swimming pools.
In another experiment, researchers created artificial creek beds where they observe how farmed fish react once they're in a more natural setting. The goal is to find ways to make farm-raised fish look and behave more like fish caught in the wild.
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