Report of the Oregon & Pacific Northwest Aquaculture Development Conference: Investing in the Future of Seafood
The Oregon Aquaculture Association in partnership with Oregon State University, National and Oregon Sea Grant, Business Oregon, and the US Department of Agriculture, hosted an aquaculture development conference on Oct. 4-6, 2022, on the campus of Chemeketa Community College in Salem, Oregon. Below is a report of the conference:
The principal aim of the Aquaculture Development Conference (Conference) was to promote increased investment in sustainable aquaculture and optimize its positive economic, social, and nutritional contributions in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest (PNW). A parallel objective was to address the considerable lack of aquaculture knowledge that adversely affects the development of the sector in this region.
The underlying principle was that, if aquaculture is to develop and deliver positive benefits in the PNW as it has in many locations in the United States and the world, the status quo is no longer an option action is required.
Design & Expectations
Given the relatively low level of aquaculture investment in Oregon in particular, and the Pacific Northwest in general, the Conference sought to address key issues affecting public and private investments in aqua farming. The Conference was not meant to be an end unto itself, but the beginning of a process that will encourage greater interest and motivate individuals and firms to raise and eat more farmed seafood.
An immediate expectation from the Conference was to act as a forum for information exchange and networking. A stronger knowledge base leads to greater investment built on an enhanced understanding of the risks and benefits. It is also expected that the Conference will be catalytic, coalescing efforts, prompting action, and expanding horizons.
Major Takeaways & Proposed Action
Aquaculture and the Socioeconomy
Aquaculture is Agriculture
Fundamentally, aquaculture is agriculture. However, to much of the world, including Oregon, aquaculture is considered a new and poorly understood innovation that falls outside the definition of agriculture. Although aquatic and terrestrial farming employ the same general practices and engage with the same institutions, aquatic farming is frequently perceived as being very different. These perceptions can result in concerns about environmental impacts as well as competition for land, water, labor, markets, and other production inputs and outputs. These concerns notwithstanding, aqua farming can and should be synergistic with terrestrial farming when well planned and implemented.
Culture & Capture Fisheries
Fishermen often view aquaculture as an unwelcome neighbor, with concerns generally including aquaculture’s perceived negative impacts on wild fish stocks and competition for space and markets. However, carefully designed and implemented aquaculture investments can co-exist with commercial and recreational fisheries; aquaculture can even be complementary. Fishers and aquatic farmers do share a common market, and this market foundation can be inclusive as opposed to exclusive—market channels and processes addressing both cultured and captured products to their mutual advantage. In some instances, these alliances can even support shared processing and marketing facilities.
Aqua Farming & the Environment
There are justifiable environmental and ecological concerns about aquaculture, as there are for most agricultural or industrial activities. Regrettably, there have been cases where negative impacts have occurred, though most of these cases were ultimately transformative, catalyzing significant effort to improve policies and practices. When planned and operated under the guidance of effective environmental regulations and industry best practices, aquatic farms can and do have a very modest ecological footprint, often smaller than other forms of food production.
Aquaculture and Investing
Markets & Marketing
Markets are a critical, if not the most critical, element that should frame any aquaculture investment. Many investors adopt the “if you grow it, they will come” philosophy only to find that this is most often not the case. Markets must be thoroughly researched to identify suitable marketing strategies prior to investing; the costs for these essential actions should be included as part of the overall pre-investment expenses.
Places & Practices
Aqua farming cannot be practiced anywhere or everywhere. Aquaculture can be complex and involves a wide variety of crops and production technologies. This diversity of the aquaculture sector can provide significant individual and community benefits, but it also imposes many requirements on the siting of production facilities. With this complexity comes the need to determine how to best integrate locations, technologies, and practices. Every farm is site specific, and every site has a set of practices that are best for the prevailing conditions. Matching the site, technologies, and markets requires specialized knowledge, external support, and detailed preparation.
Business and Farm Planning
Aquaculture is one of many types of agribusinesses undertaken by farmers around the world. In numerous ways, it resembles many other farm enterprises. It requires market development, specialized materials, a trained workforce, regulatory compliance, as well as finely honed management skills. A comprehensive business and farm plan is an absolute prerequisite for investments that have a significant chance for success.
Aquaculture and Institutions
The government’s role in aquaculture is usually that of policy maker and regulator. In many investors’ views, government means convoluted and costly regulations. Nonetheless, there is general agreement that some level of regulation and oversight is necessary. Regulatory processes can be streamlined by involving operators when outlining regulatory procedures, establishing a one-stop-shop to coordinate between and across agencies, and implementing pre-investment meetings for individual investors.
Policy and regulations are not, however, the sole role for governments. Ideally government should be a facilitator of economic development and wise investing. The public sector plays an important part in research and development (R&D), education, outreach, and advocacy.
Government support of sector growth is pivotal if aquaculture is to reach its untapped potential in Oregon, the Pacific Northwest and, more broadly, across the country. Additionally, government can serve as a vehicle for increasing the public’s understanding of aquaculture through enhanced education and extension systems.
Tribal communities have unique circumstances potentially making aquaculture investment easier and allowing them to be prospective early adopters for a nascent2 program. Conference attendees representing the state of Washington explained that tribal rights can be exercised in ways that allow for faster permitting and startup of aquaculture enterprises. Additionally, tribes can form partnerships with private companies to pair technical ability and aquaculture expertise with tribal organization, funding, and entrepreneurship. For example, the Jamestown Tribe partners with Cooke Aquaculture on developing successful marine aquaculture projects providing the potential to expand tribal economic activity while having downstream impacts on tribal public health, food security, and overall sovereignty. Both from within and outside Tribal Communities, special efforts should be focused on meaningful engagement regarding aquatic farming opportunities and assisting with investment planning incorporated with integrated economic and community development. A dynamic, diversified, and profitable tribal aquaculture program would serve as a strong foundation upon which to expand subsectoral growth and attract additional investment.
Partnerships & Associations
Aquaculture can serve as an important part of the economy, from local to national levels. This requires partnerships with entities covering a range of backgrounds, from markets and technology to civil society. These partnerships can be facilitated through a vibrant aquaculture producer association that is able to add value to the entire aquaculture program. Practically, this means strengthening state and regional aquaculture associations by ensuring they have the necessary breadth to support the overall state industry while building strong relationships with other producer associations (e.g., in the case of Oregon, two important linkages are with the horticulture and viticulture associations).
Knowledge and Education
The lack of a large and diversified aquaculture industry results in limited knowledge which has an impact on industry development. From students to members of civil society to would-be operators, this knowledge gap results in widespread misconceptions that hinder program development and causes farm level investments that are not technically sound and have high risk of failure. Some of these gaps can be addressed by utilizing available tools and resources while exploring more long term solutions such as more thoroughly integrating aquaculture into existing educational networks.
Program Development & Strategic Planning
There are certain advantages in having an underdeveloped program. As opposed to retrofitting an expansive existing industry, it is possible to take state of the art solutions and technologies to sculpt a 21st Century sustainable
and profitable program. This starts with a comprehensive State Aquaculture Strategic Plan. This plan, in turn, requires naming a lead agency and establishing an ad hoc Planning Committee representing all stakeholder groups. A state strategic aquaculture plan should be considered as an essential component of any responsible and productive state program.
In the aggregate, Conference discussions can be distilled to highlight an overall investment perspective and a set of high priority actions.
Under favorable conditions aquaculture can be a set of food systems and aquatic organism management schemes that can attract positive public and private investment. The corollary is that the absence of this investment can often be attributed to basic principles underpinning the acceptance of aquaculture.
In the case of Oregon, the Pacific Northwest, and many other areas, it can be proffered that the fundamental issues potentially adversely affecting the growth of the aquaculture sector are NOT technical nor even economic. The principal questions affecting the expansion and diversification of aquaculture are political support and social license, or the lack thereof.
To address concerns coming from this overarching perspective, the top three areas for concurrent priority action are:
1. Establish the framework for developing a State Strategic Aquaculture Plan and begin the planning process in 2023, completing the first draft of the comprehensive plan by mid 2024.
2. Pending adoption of the Plan, significantly improve coordination among all stakeholder groups and increase outreach to investors along the seafood value chain while establishing an interim one-stop-shop to interface with regulators and operators.
3. Identify and mobilize ways and means to support aquaculture for those Tribes interested in aquaculture development opportunities.
Below is a list of presentations given at the conference:
Oregon and Pacific Northwest Aquaculture Development Conference “Investing in the Future of Seafood” - Forum on Strategic Tribal Aquaculture & Food Security
Sourcing and Marketing Sustainable Aquaculture - Daisy Berg
Investing in Aquaculture - Carole R. Engle, Ph.D.
The Case for Aquaculture - Paul Zajicek
Portland District Regulatory Branch Authorities Pertaining to the Regulation of Mariculture Activities - Brielle Cummings
Overview NOAA’s Role in Aquaculture - Dan Tonnes
Breakout Session: Regulations and Permitting - Kellen Parrish
Breakout Session: Workforce Development - Angee Doerr
Investing in Aquaculture: Opportunities and Challenges for the Farmer?
Role of Aquaculture Associations - Carole R. Engle, Ph.D.