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New York Aquaculture Industry: Status, Constraints And Opportunities: A White Paper

By Michael Timmons Gregg Rivara Dale Baker Joe Regenstein Martin Schreibman Philson Warner Debra Barnes Karen Rivara

May 1, 2004


The capture of fish from the ocean has peaked and the demand for fish continues to rise. Aquaculture is the only sustainable method for supplying fish to the world’s population. The worldwide market for fish is over $200 billion of which approximately $61 billion is supplied by aquaculture. It is estimated that by 2010, population growth alone will create an additional $36 billion per year of new demand for fish that will have to be supplied by aquaculture.

Aquaculture continues to increase its share of the world's supply of seafood, currently supplying 29% of the total seafood consumed. This is an increase from 10% about 15 years ago. Seafood imports are the second largest contributor (behind oil/energy) to the US trade deficit (over $7 billion, US Department of Commerce (DOC)) and this deficit continues to grow. The United States imported over $10 billion of seafood in 2000, of which $4.6 billion was for imported shrimp, salmon, and tilapia. The US continues to increase the percentage of seafood consumed that is imported, with it now being over 70%. New York State, surprisingly, imports nearly all the seafood consumed within the state. The total wholesale value of seafood in the US in 2002 was $26 billion. A major economic development opportunity exists in New York for aquaculture production, which would be consumed locally.

The future of New York's aquaculture industry must also embrace and support the present industry, which is significant, particularly the shellfish industry on Long Island. The shellfish industry contributes $17 million to the NY State economy of which $11 million is from aquaculture, while currently the finfish aquaculture industry contributes $2 million per year.The state ornamental fish industry is non-existent, yet New York State moves $150 million (retail value) of aquarium fish through its ports every year.

In the early part of the 20 th century New York was a major shellfish producer, dominating the oyster industry, and a major national producer of hard clams through the middle of the century. Today the industry suffers for a number of reasons including poor water quality, lack of access to underwater land and dockage, and state public policy regarding underwater lands that currently discourages shellfish aquaculture. The opportunity exists for major increases of shellfish production in the marine waters of New York.

Some of the first finfish culture in the US was initiated in New York by the mid 19 th century and the state was a leader in trout breeding by the time of the Civil War (Benson, 1970). NY has yet to reach anywhere near its potential in finfish production. Outdoor ponds, although subject to all the vagaries of weather and other issues, such as water quality, are used to raise fish for stocking purposes and baitfish production. Additional opportunities for utilizing ponds, for these purposes, exist today and the additional production of baitfish, for sale within New York, would have a positive economic impact in the state. There is also the potential opportunity to raise finfish in offshore pens in the marine environment, which has yet to be fully examined.

The type of aquaculture that currently has the most major potential economic impact is indoor food fish aquaculture in a controlled environment, similar to how the broiler industry has evolved. Today the finfish of greatest promise appears to be tilapia, which are currently being successfully raised and marketed in upstate NY. Tilapia accounts for more than 50% of the economic output for finfish production in New York State. New York State has numerous inherent advantages in the indoor aquaculture industry, including its central location near significant population densities, the existing infrastructure of academic and business institutions, and the consumption patterns of its inhabitants. This type of aquaculture is also not dependent on scarce coastal resources. Government assistance is required for indoor aquaculture to become a driver of economic development in this state.

New York State has already begun to develop an industry centered around both finfish and shellfish aquaculture. With proper assistance and public policy support from the state and utilizing academic institutions to supply the necessary research and extension education, aquaculture in New York can over the next 10 to 20 years become a $1.5 billion per year industry, creating 15,000 new jobs with further growth expected beyond.

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