Aquacultural economics!

From the Times-Picayune, via Grist.

… with the United States importing 80 percent of the seafood it consumes, the pressure is coming from high levels of government to find alternatives.

“We are already consuming a tremendous amount of farm-raised fish,” U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said at a conference on offshore aquaculture earlier this year. “We might as well do it ourselves under our terms, under our conditions, under our standards, and take the market.”

I can’t argue with the logic. I like fish. I’ve mentioned fisheries a few times, here. I don’t eat the stuff, of course, but that’s neither here nor there.

What’s the problem here, exactly? To my mind, it’s basic economics. If demand exceeds supply, then the price has to go up. I went through this with regard to French fishermen and gasoline prices. Why do we insist upon this idea that, somehow, prices have to stay “low”? Prices are determined, one way or the other, by Supply and Demand. Pressing for subsidies is a mistake; over-fishing one’s own waters, then those of every other poor country that one can find is criminal; throwing in with massive fish-farms is a mistake.

An interesting perspective:

One company that has ventured into the field is Kona Blue Water Farms in Hawaii. The company produces 20,000 pounds a week of a boutique Hawaiian fish called Kona Kampachi, found in some organic food stores and many restaurants on the West Coast. That is about half the amount of red snapper brought to shore each week in Louisiana.

Chief executive Neil Sims has received numerous federal grants for hatchery research on other species, but he said the company is likely years away from turning a profit. Given the cost of shipping from Hawaii, Sims said expanding to other parts of the country is critical for success.

“You grow your own grains. You don’t chase chickens around in the wild. You don’t chase cows, so why would you only focus on wild fish?” Sims said. “Other countries understand that logic, and these countries are welcoming that.”

Without legislation to expand his business to federal waters, he said he plans to move some operations into Mexico.

I don’t know where this guy has been, but we do rather concern ourselves with the health and environmental consequences of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. Setting up Oceanic CAFOs, when the oceans already have enough problems, is probably not wise.

Ultimately it won’t matter. Less-tasty, utilitarian animal proteins are, more likely than not, the way of the future. I’m often asked whether I’d eat petri-dish-grown animal meat. Probably. I can always eat anything biblically: boil away all the taste and blood, just leaving fuel. We cannot, however, pursue increasing wealth, increasing sophistication, increasingly cosmopolitan lifestyles and tastes (including palates) and assume nature will keep feeding us. Natural resources are, typically, fixed in supply.


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