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Extension > Food > Small Farms > Alternative and small-scale livestock systems > Aquaculture > Plenty of fish in the sea?

Plenty of fish in the sea?

Nick Phelps in the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory

Nick Phelps examines minnows from a Minnesota fish farm at the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. Routine inspections are critical to monitor population health and identify emerging diseases.

Nick Phelps, Aquaculture Research and Extension, University of Minnesota
January 2012

Is it time to retire the old adage: there are plenty of fish in the sea? Well, with a finite number of fish and rapidly increasing pressures—maybe so. We have made significant progress in recent years, but many of the world's fish populations remain at risk. Overfishing, environmental contamination, invasive species, and exotic diseases are a few of the significant pressures our fish face.

All of these factors affect Minnesota's fish populations, too. However, as you have undoubtedly heard through this and other publications, there is hope! Minnesota has some of the best minds in the fields of water resources, ecosystem health, and conservation working to alleviate these pressures. One particular topic receiving increased attention is aquaculture. Safe, sustainable fish production is essential to supplement natural production and maintain healthy fish populations. Fish populations in Minnesota supply food, recreation, and ecosystem stability, and are an important part of the economy. Aquaculture helps ensure that supply meets growing demands.

Since 1970, global aquaculture production has increased at a rate of 9.2% per year, compared to 2.8% for terrestrial meat production and 1.4% for capture fisheries. This rise in production now supplies 38% of the world's fish—a significant contribution! In Minnesota, state and private aquaculture has operated for more than 100 years and has primarily been focused on supplementing natural production for recreational improvement. Production numbers in 2009 were staggering, with more than 265 million walleye (mainly fry), 1.4 million trout/salmon, and 35,100 muskies stocked into Minnesota lakes and rivers. Minnesota also produces some food fish, with about 1 million pounds of tilapia sold each year, as well as 30 other species of fish, leeches (100,000+ pounds!), and turtles. Our state leads the nation in walleye, muskie, and leech production, and ranks second for baitfish.

In addition to traditional aquaculture, a growing demand for locally grown and sustainable food fish has increased interest in aquaponics—a plant/fish production system. These indoor systems can range in size from a small living room aquarium to a Minneapolis warehouse. Large scale, these systems have shown promise with several businesses currently in operation selling a variety of leafy greens along with yellow perch, tilapia, and rainbow trout.

To sustain recreational pressures, and meet the demand for locally grown, sustainable food sources, aquaculture is essential. This is evident by the increased collaboration and investment between the University of Minnesota Extension, Minnesota Sea Grant, University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, private aquaculture associations, Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association, Minnesota Board of Animal Health, and other stakeholders. These groups are working to alleviate some of the pressures facing our fish populations by supporting aquaculture in our state.

So no, don't retire that old adage yet, but perhaps change it to: There are plenty of fish in the aquaculture pond!

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