LANSING — Better rules for sustainable fish farms could provide the state with a $1 billion-a-year industry, believe officials with the Michigan Sea Grant, a coastal conservation research group.
Fish farms, collectively known as aquaculture, are few so far, but Michigan’s abundant system of inland lakes, Great Lakes and fresh groundwater means there’s large potential for growth, researchers said.
“Michigan probably has the best resources available for this,” said Christopher Weeks, a Michigan State University fisheries and wildlife researcher. “The demand for seafood is projected to rise. The Chinese market alone is expected to increase their consumption by 300 percent by 2030.”
Fish farms work sort of like traditional farms, only fish are raised instead of livestock and crops, and tanks are used instead of fields.
About 80 percent of “aquaculture products” globally are freshwater fish, Weeks said. And the Great Lakes hold about 18 percent of the world’s fresh water supply.
“We believe, with the proper effort and investment, we could see a $1 billion industry here by 2025,” said Dan Vogler, president of Michigan Aquaculture Association.
That would be similar in value to Michigan’s soybean or dairy sectors now, he said.
Vogler’s Harrietta Hills Trout Farm in Harrietta, near Cadillac, is the largest in the state. It raises rainbow and brown trout, largemouth bass, hybrid bluegill, yellow perch, channel catfish and fathead minnows.
Most aquaculture is located in the northern Lower Peninsula, said Joe Colyn of Originz LLC, an agribusiness consulting firm in Battle Creek.
But the relative novelty of the industry makes for an awkward match with Michigan’s environmental regulations, according to the Sea Grant’s assessment.
Weeks said, “We’re seeing more business registrations, but we really haven’t been able to develop past $2 to $4 million in the last 12, 15 years. “And the question is why that is.