ASA Outlines Potential of Offshore Aquaculture for Senate Committee

American Soybean Association supports legislation to establish regulatory framework for commercial aquaculture in the United States
April 12, 2006

On behalf of its 25,000 soybean producer-members, the American Soybean Association (ASA) outlined for the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation the tremendous potential and benefits that offshore aquaculture could bring to U.S. soybean farmers and seafood consumers. The ASA is supporting legislation to establish a regulatory framework for commercial aquaculture in the United States.


"ASA appreciates the Committee’s attention to offshore aquaculture, which soybean farmers have identified as a significant new market for U.S. soybeans," said ASA President Bob Metz, a soybean producer from West Browns Valley, S.D.


Many studies project a significant increase in global farmed-fish production over the next 15 years. Since 1990, the aquaculture industry has been growing at an average compound rate of around 10 percent a year. It is probably the world's fastest growing form of food production.  With increasing seafood demand and declining capture fisheries, global aquaculture production will have to increase by 500 percent by the year 2025 to meet the projected needs of a world population of 8.5 billion people. 


"While the United States is the world's third largest consumer of seafood, we rank only 11th in the world in the value of our aquaculture production," Metz said. "More than $1 billion of U.S.-consumed seafood now comes from farm-raised fish and shellfish grown in other countries. The U.S. seafood trade deficit is the largest for any agricultural commodity, and the second largest, after petroleum, for any natural product."


The U.S. soybean industry has identified the potential demand for plant protein in aquafeeds as an opportunity to increase the use of U.S. soybeans. ASA is a world leader in the development of soy-based aquaculture feeds. ASA is working to increase the demand for soybean meal by providing sustainable, renewable sources of protein for the aquafeed industry. Based on projections for farmed fish production, it has been estimated that demand for soybean meal will reach 300 million bushels in the next 10 years.


"Soybean producers are poised to take advantage of the growing demand for plant-based aquaculture feeds," Metz said. "Many herbivorous or omnivorous species such as carp, tilapia, catfish, and shrimp thrive on soy-based aquafeed."


Since 1992, soybean farmers have funded market development activities through ASA's International Marketing activities with funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) and the United Soybean Board (USB), primarily in China. This program has increased demand for soybean meal for farm-raised fish from almost zero to an estimated four million metric tons (147 million bushels) in 2005, contributing to soy’s role as the largest U.S. agricultural export.


However, the carnivorous marine species are of great interest because of their importance in human nutrition and their high value to the aquaculture industry. Feed is the major cost for production of finfish, and at the heart of several issues concerning the role of aquaculture in producing wholesome human food and environmental sustainability.


"The challenge facing the aquaculture industry, both freshwater and marine, is to identify economically viable and environmentally friendlier alternatives to fish meal and fish oil on which many present aquafeeds are largely based," Metz said. "The anticipated growth internationally in aquaculture is expected to exceed the limited supply of fish meal and oil from wild-harvest in the next decade. Thus, the aquafeeds industry has recognized for several years that viable utilization of plant feedstuffs formulated in aquafeeds is an essential requirement for future development of aquaculture."


Such plant feedstuffs must provide healthy diets that will grow aquatic species economically with minimal environmental impact and provide product that is optimal for human health. In addition to concerns about the sustainability of fisheries resources, other issues such as the potential presence of organic and inorganic contaminants in fish meal and the net effect of demand-and-supply economics in the global market require enhanced efforts to evaluate reasonable alternatives such as plant feedstuffs.


Despite years of research funded both by government and industry, there are still unidentified factors in plant feedstuffs that limit its use in diets for carnivorous species, including most marine species of commercial importance, as well as salmon and trout. Nevertheless, globally, the international salmon aquaculture industry is clamoring for a source of protein that is stable in terms of cost, quality, and supply.

"U.S. soybean farmers strongly support the expansion of U.S. aquaculture, given the trade implications and demand for a safe, domestic supply of seafood," Metz said. "Further, we recognize that the major growth opportunity is offshore, and ASA supports a national investment in research focused on optimizing the use of plant products in aqua feeds so that they are highly digestible and provide optimal human health benefits."