Columbia, SC — Slow progress in aquaculture production and cheap imports are working against South Carolina’s fishing industry.
Much has been published on our potential, but there seems to be an unexplained barrier. Ninety-one percent of seafood consumed in the United States is imported, and half of this is from aquaculture. Farm-raised seafood is the fastest growing animal protein source in the world, and 89 percent of the aquaculture industry is in Asia.
This large import business is odd considering that the United States controls the largest Exclusive Economic Zone in the world, consisting of vast areas of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans and the Gulf of Mexico, stretching to 200 nautical miles offshore. Exclusive access to the seafood resources in this zone, coupled with our potential in aquaculture, the farming of freshwater and saltwater seafood species and state wild-caught, hold great promise for growth.
To grow and compete in the international seafood market, we must increase production and increase our downstream actions with processing and adding value. Neither South Carolina nor the United States can compete with the cheap labor available to the aquaculture farms in the exporting countries. Instead, we must be innovative and concentrate on our strengths. High-quality ensures high-value, and locally produced and processed seafood can lead in this arena.
While wild-caught seafood production will increase some as the stocks recover, we must increase both fresh- and saltwater aquaculture. Then we must process the seafood, control the quality and sell it locally, a model that maximizes the benefit to South Carolina by increasing jobs.
Some in the industry are making do, but to recover and grow, the state government must tweak its management practices.
The present strategy of managing and regulating the state’s seafood industry was formulated prior to the explosive growth of aquaculture, especially in Asia, that resulted in ever-increasing seafood imports. We need a serious review of the state’s strategy for managing and regulating our seafood industry. The future of our industry is uncertain, but with legislative changes, we can revive and grow it.
Executive Director, S.C. Seafood Alliance