The pecan case shows that foreign middle-class customers with growing affluence demand health benefits (both real and perceived) from premium products. Within the small amount of promotion and marketing that U.S. aquaculture products receive, health benefits of seafood consumption are common marketing messages. In addition to the nutritional health benefits, the United States’ environmental regulatory standards for feed ingredients, aquatic animal health, water quality monitoring and transport and sanitation regulations governing the production and handling of U.S. aquaculture products exceed those of foreign countries with a rapidly growing middle class who demands these health and safety attributes. The concerns for food safety and health add another dimension to potential interest in U.S. aquaculture products that are not an aspect seen in the pecan case.

Given that pecans which topped $470 million in 2012 are a larger sector than any particular aquaculture sector, industry value would not be a barrier to foreign buyers looking to the U.S. for seafood products that meet the criteria as healthy and safe products that deliver on value. Catfish growers for example produced $341 million of product in 2012 down from a record high of about $650 million in the mid-2000s. And production of bivalve molluscan shellfish has grown from $243 million figure reported in the 2007 Census of Agriculture, and could exceed $300 million when the 2012 Census of Agriculture figures are reported in early 2014.

As noted before, there is a stark contrast between growing trade surpluses in terrestrial agricultural products, while products of aquatic origin show a perennially growing deficit. There was a wealth of research presented at the Aquaculture America conference, held this past February in Nashville. The growing surplus on the terrestrial side illustrates the tremendous capacity the United States has to grow its position as a global food provider. The limitations for the U.S to become a major aquatic agriculture producer are not rooted in the scientific or technical challenges to fish and shellfish production. The wealth of research presented at the Aquaculture America conference, which was held this past February in Nashville is a perennial exhibition of the know-how of hundreds of aquaculture scientists in US government and academic institutions. The inability of U.S. aquaculture to grow to the point where we see a change in the seafood trade deficit are instead rooted in other areas such as financial, economic and policy barriers.

Considering robust foreign cash reserves, a relatively weak dollar, declining U.S. seafood consumption, products are a result of high quality and safety infrastructure and similar cases of foreign cash flow into in U.S. agriculture sectors, it is plausible that interest by foreign buyers may be the catalyst to growth of the U.S. aquaculture industry and we may see a reversal of the current trend in the U.S. seafood trade deficit. Growth in U.S. aquaculture has long been predicted but actual production has at best remained flat. It will be interesting to see whether any foreign interest in U.S. produced seafood push the U.S. aquaculture industry beyond those non-technical barriers.

Joseph J. Myers, New Jersey Department of Agriculture, Office of Aquaculture Coordination

 

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