I've got one word for you. One word.
Not the marine type of aquaculture with floating cages that breed diseases for wild inhabitants. Rather, the land based fish farms that can help to meet the demand for fish, and the need for healthy food, while relieving pressure on wild fish populations.
I've recently been on a kick of finding the relatively small things that can have a big impact on social mobility, and agricultural policy is one of those things. If we're reinventing our economies and looking toward the core principles of Making Things...food production is a critical cornerstone. Why are regions in urban decline reaching toward urban farming? Because it's a fundamental building block of a healthy society and economy.
It also all fits into the whole eat local, buy local, produce local thing.
Now, back to aquaculture. The Michigan agricultural director has recently cited aquaculture as an important means to diversify the state's economy, and grow a little known but very important state industry: agriculture. In many states, including the state of Michigan, moving in to this industry takes only a few minor tweaks to the regulatory framework.
Say, did you know Michigan ranks 2nd in diversity of crops, and leads the nation in the production of all sorts of crops from black beans to tart cherries?
We do! We're an agricultural state. With lots of water. So of course there's a growing interest in farming fish and other marine foods here.
Let met talk a little bit about lake perch.
Lake perch is $14.99 a pound here in Muskegon if you buy it fresh at a store. That's a little strange since people fish for it here. Drop a line into the water for half a second, you'll catch a bluegill. Go ice fishing, you'll catch lake perch. Yet, it's crazy expensive stuff to buy, and the stuff they sell at the store is from Canada. Not because it's bad to eat here. To the contrary, some (not all) local restaurants sell locally caught lake perch.
See...the Canadian stuff is farmed, and can reliably meet demand...and folks here in Muskegon can't seem to get enough of it. Every local restaurant in town has its own fried lake perch sandwich. Whitlows has some of the best, but Handsome Henry's has a pretty fantastic one.
Now...one would think that a place so perch crazy would farm the stuff here. But we really don't. Instead a favorite local food is subject to a constant assault of competing invasive species, and the fish seem to get smaller every year. So to meet demand...we import some of it. It travels hundreds of miles to our plates. Something we could very well do right here
Aquaculture is the confluence of many things that strike my interest: a local food source that reduces the need for transportation, a new industry for a limping economic region, and a sustainable industry that conserves existing ecosystems.