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Midwestern farms struggle to sell fish, despite the potential

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The Associated Press

Associated Press

Catfish Smith

Indianapolis (AP) — Andrew Capringer is fresh in the restaurant due to the dramatic increase in food costs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. I had a hard time finding catfish. He decides to try an "experimental" solution — he grows himself.

Within the next few months, Indianapolis restaurant chain Caplinger's Fresh Catch Seafood will source the second most popular menu item from a fish pond on a 28-acre farm in southern Indiana. let's start doing .... The goal is to produce up to half of the 800-1,000 pound catfish fillets served in the restaurant each week.

"I've never done this — I sold a dead fish for the rest of my life," he said. "It can be hard and dangerous, but assuming things go well and these fish grow as expected, you don't have to consider raising the price of the store again for a while."

This is a move that could increase the desire for local fish, Capringer said. However, despite increasing fish and seafood consumption in the United States, the number of Midwestern farms is declining, and many fish producers are giving consumers in the region their produce. They say they are facing challenges in delivering.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the Midwestern state occupies one-fifth of the country, but about one-third of all farms in the United States.

Experts claim that the area could become a strong aquaculture producer, but the number of Midwestern farms has dropped from 336 10 years ago to about 271. doing.

This may be due to the region's historical reliance on wild fish and shellfish, Illinois-Indian Sea subsidy-related aquaculture marketing. Amy Schambach, an outreach of the. Seafood produced in the Midwest must also compete with cheaper imported seafood.

"Our input costs are a bit higher than elsewhere, and (it) contributes to some of the slowdown in growth," says Shambach.

Stagnation aquaculture in the Midwestern aquaculture industry has a national impact, Schambach said. Global fish consumption is expected to increase by £ 100-170 billion by 2030, and widening fish trade deficits mean more fish need to be cultivated, demand from Midwestern farmers Open the door to meet.

Joseph Morris, former director of Iowa State University's North Central Regional Aquaculture Center, points out issues of marketing, fish processing and high labor costs, and industry growth is a challenge. Said that.

"A big hurdle to tackle-how can we economically produce products to meet consumer needs and keep our business running?" He said. "How do you reach the growing market for people who want to eat fish?"

Mike Sircy, who owns a trout farm in Seymour, Indiana, said in Huscher (in the last decade). In one of the only two states in the Midwest that reported an increase in farms), offal and harvested fish fillets. He sends most of the fish to Kentucky for processing and distribution.

"There is demand from local customers, but the biggest obstacle is the lack of processing to close the gap between farmers and restaurant owners, which is blocking us. We are, "said Sircy, who is seeking to have a processing facility on his farm. "When we are competing with foreign markets and a much cheaper workforce, they can supply fillets to grocery stores that are much cheaper than I can."

Shan Bach said that due to the lack of processing available in Indiana, only a handful of Indiana farms can be produced for the food business. Instead, most state-raised fish are sold raw to the Asian food markets of Indianapolis, Chicago, New York City, and Toronto.

Still, according to Morris, aquaculture companies aim to grow their businesses and increase their profits. This can be successful if producers can sell their fish better.

"The new generation is eating more fish and they are more often asking," Where does my food come from? " That's where the Midwest comes in, "Morris said.

One solution for farmers could be a recirculation aquaculture system that allows fish and shrimp to grow in aquarium-based systems. This method allows producers to control water quality, often prevent fish diseases and the need for antibiotics, and allow landlocked countries to raise a variety of species year-round.

However, this method is expensive and eliminates many small and medium-sized farmers. She warned that Sircy, whose farm is entirely technical, also depends entirely on electricity. Environmental activists have argued that RAS requires abundant water resources and have expressed concern about waste disposal.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Culture Program Manager Tyler Isaac said that with sustainable fish feed and appropriate precautions, RAS is a midwestern fish farm. Said that it can be increased.

"This is always a trade-off game, but after all, I think the recirculation system is a really good step," said Isaac, and renewable energy sources are more likely to do so. He added that it would be environmentally friendly. .. “The development of the aquaculture industry in places like the Midwest is good. Appropriate safety measures need to be taken.”

Morris says the genetically modified Aqua Bounty grown in Indiana. He said other new technologies, such as Atlantic salmon, could also be "very attractive to producers." Before similar genetically modified fish became mainstream.

"From the perspective of Midwestern aquaculture as a whole, growth must be due to the operation of edible fish. That is your market and consumer base." Morris said. "There are many out-of-stock ponds and many anglers in the Midwest, but there are consumers in the Midwest who want to eat more and more fish. We need to focus on that."


Casey Smith is a member of the Associated Press / American Capitol News Initiative. Report for America is a non-profit national service program that places journalists in the local newsroom to report on unreported issues. Follow Smith on Twitter.