Aquaculture America 2014 Blog -- Icicle lobbies for more domestic farmed salmon production

IntraFish is blogging up-to-the-minute information from the World Aquaculture Society's conference in Seattle. Keep checking here to get the latest information on all things fish farming.

Wednesday, Feb. 12, 12pm PST

Tilapia byproducts carrying the sector

Industry expert Israel Snir had a lot to say during the American Tilapia Alliance session on Wednesday -- namely about the ways some farmers may be misleading themselves.

"The fillet is not enough to carry the industry," Snir said, adding that those companies who do not see the value in tilapia byproducts may not last for very long. "The byproduct is what is making the fillets possible."

-- Avani Nadkarni

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Wednesday, Feb. 12, 11:30am PST

Fish farming, meet poultry farming

An ironic aspect of the protein meal sector is that fish once made up a sizeable part of poultry diet. Today, with the exorbitant prices of fishmeal and oil -- approaching $2,000 per metric ton -- the formula is reversed.

That's why poultry giant Tyson has been making its rounds at aquaculture events, and diverting an increasing amount of attention to the sector.

"The economics is pushing a lot of people to alternative proteins in feed," Andy Dilatush, senior product and production planning manager with Tyson Animal Nutrition Group, said.

The company began targeting the sector roughly seven years ago, and first exhibited at the Aquaculture Americas show in Las Vegas in 2012.

Since that time, Tyson has been making the rounds to educate the aquaculture industry about poultry meal, feather meal and fats and an alternative. While poultry meal doesn't offer the DHA benefits of fishmeal, Dilatush noted, at $750 per ton, feather meal has a very compelling financial aspect.

Jeannie Ozlanski, associate product manager for the Ingredients and Animal Nutrition Group, said interest was particularly high at the WAS show in Vietnam, where producers of lower-cost fish such as pangasius are looking for ways to reduce feed costs.

Tyson has been in seafood before: the company acquired Arctic Alaska Fisheries Corp. and Louis Kemp Seafood Co. in 1992, and Stark of Kodiak and a 22 percent stake in All Alaskan Seafoods Inc. in 1995. The company sold off what was at the time called Tyson Seafood Group in 1999.

"We're good at farming," Dilatush said of its exit from fisheries. "Being vertically integrated means we know how many chickens they are, we know where they came from. We're truly completely traceable and were one of the first food companies to really be sustainable."

The company processes roughly 40 million chickens per week.

--Drew Cherry

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Wednesday, Feb. 12, 10:25am PST

Marketing aquaculture? Better have more than one source

Professors at the University of Rhode Island say the best way to promote farmed seafood is showcasing its benefits, such as its health advantages as many people know, but years of study show the information needs to come from multiple sources.

Using an auction methodology, consumers respond well to information, however there's only limited impact on health benefits where as health risks have a "strong" influence.

A balanced exposition of information and risk information had the most influence on consumers willingness to buy or not, one professor said.

"People react more to negative information than positive information," he said.

--Josh Stilts

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Wednesday, Feb. 12, 10:25am PST

Take me to the river (in Africa)

Last year more than 100,000 metric tons of catfish and tilapia were grown in the Niger and Senegal rivers in Africa, but it's really just a tipping point, says Hery Coulibaly, technical advisor for the Permanent Assembly of Chambers of Agriculture of Mali.

"It's an attractive alternative to the traditional crop production because it isn't as affected by things like climate change, Coulibaly told IntraFish.

Although production is ramping up, cold transport remains the largest hurdle to increase commercial production and eventual export.

Regardless of future transportation, the projects have caught the eyes of the industry and global investors.

World Bank is already funding numerous aquaculture projects in West Africa and companies in Germany, Belgium and China have all started conversations about to offer training and investment opportunities, he said.

AquaFish Collaborative Research Support Program, working with Oregon State University, was also instrumental in getting the projects up and running, he said.

"Before 2005 people didn't know how to build ponds properly, they didn't know how to get fingerlings and how to feed them," Coulibaly said. "Now there's a facility producing 1 million fingerlings annually."

-- Josh Stilts

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Wednesday, Feb. 12, 10:15am PST

Move over tuna, tilapia will be chicken of seafood

University of Arizona Professor Kevin Fitzsimmons thinks tilapia will be "the chicken of the seafood industry," he said at the American Tilapia Alliance session on Wednesday.

"It's going to be the base food," he said. "The lower cost, more common food."

He also thinks tilapia is a leader in the aquaculture industry and "other aquaculture species will follow what tilapia has done" in terms of productivity.

"It's an example of what can be done when the industry puts it's mind to it."

-- Avani Nadkarni

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Wednesday, Feb. 12, 10:00am PST

These regions are rapidly increasing tilapia production...

A handful of countries are "regions of rapid production" of tilapia, said University of Arizona Professor Kevin Fitzsimmons.

These include Mexico, sub-Saharan Africa, Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh and Brazil.

-- Avani Nadkarni

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Tuesday, Feb. 11, 5pm PST

Hawaii’s untapped resources

With clear, clean water, close proximity to the Asian markets, tourists, access to state-of-the-art research facilities at the University of Hawaii, and the highest per-capita fish consumption in the United States, why isn’t aquaculture flourishing?

Alan Everson, aquaculture coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Islands Regional Office, says it has everything to do with bureaucracy.

“It’s been a frustrating couple of years,” Everson said. “A high cost of doing business, labor and energy prices, a lack of government support and the environmental and community concerns make it difficult.”

Everson, working with Neil Anthony Sims and the Ocean Stewards Institute, are laying out the groundwork to establish a standardized monitoring protocol for offshore cage aquaculture.

Currently, permitting is a one-year minimum for a “simple” project, although many have taken up to five years costing between $500,000 and $1 million, Everson said.

There’s plenty of opportunities in the Pacific waters, Sims said, it just needs the right leadership to implement projects.

-- Josh Stilts

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Tuesday, Feb. 11, 3pm PST

The future of Pentair

More than a year after purchasing Aquatic Eco-Systems in October 2012, Pentair is confident as an emerging stronghold in the aquaculture industry.

Aquaculture is one of the water products, solutions and services company's "top five growth strategies for the year," the company's Vice President of Aquaculture Bob Miller told IntraFish. He said there's little "short-term pressure on me" to make money right away -- the company heads are really focused on building growth.

And it's working.

"We've become a significant player in the industry in a short amount of time," Miller said, adding that they've seen double-digit growth year on year to about $16 million in aquaculture sales.

--Avani Nadkarni

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Tuesday, Feb. 11, 1:30pm PST

More sablefish in North America?

In the sablefish session, Sablefish Canada's George Nardi touched on the industry's research needs in order to ramp up production.

He listed an optimal larvae feeding regime, best temperatures for rearing sablefish larvae and juveniles and biosecurity as top challenges to North American sablefish aquaculture, the majority of which takes place in Canada, with Icicle Seafoods and Troutlodge participating in the US.

Disease, especially, concerns Nardi.

"We need to get better at understanding what's going on," he told the audience. "It's only a matter of time, I'm certain, before we start seeing something [like EMS]."

--Avani Nadkarni

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Tuesday, Feb. 11. 1:15pm PST

'Whoosh-ing the fish'

Washington-based Whooshh Innovations launched a new system at the show to move fish at processor plants, farm sites or hatcheries.

The transport tubes use pressure differentials to "whooshh" fish from one place to another.

The system is also easy cleaning, reducing cleaning time from hours to minutes, CEO Vincent Bryan told IntraFish at the Whooshh booth.

--Avani Nadkarni

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Tuesday, Feb. 11. 12:50pm PST

'Omega-3s more related to heart disease than cholesterol'

Nutritionist Chris Speed is on a mission to get Americans to not only eat more omega-3s, but less omega-6s.

"Omega-3s are more related to heart disease than too much cholesterol," Speed told IntraFish at a lunchtime meeting.

People eat too many omega-6 foods--foods with soybean oil, vegetable oil--and not enough fish, he said, calling it the "most significant nutritional mishap in the past 100 years."

In addition, said Aquaculture Without Frontiers' Roy Palmer, "we've all got to work together, aquaculture, fishermen, the catfish industry, the shrimp industry."

-- Avani Nadkarni

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Tuesday, Feb. 11. 12:30pm PST

Taking up the farmed salmon mantle

Icicle Seafoods has a long and storied history as a wild seafood producer, but under its private equity owners, it has expanded its footprint, and is now a sizeable producer of farmed salmon in Chile, and – though it may not be widely known – in the United States.

Icicle’s Alan Cook provided some insight into the company's Washington State operations to help make the case for the development of salmon aquaculture as a driver of coastal economies.

“There’s not reason production can’t be grown here,” Cook said.

Icicle’s operations in Washington State’s Puget Sound now employs 75 people making an average of $6,000 per month, Cook noted. Meanwhile, rural and coastal communities have overly-high unemployment rates, and many living below the poverty line.

Icicle operates five sea water farms and two hatcheries across 21 acres, producing 15 million pounds of salmon.

That means Icicle produces more salmon than all of Washington’s salmon fisheries combined, Cook noted.

It could be producing much more, however. To put the size of their operations in context, Cook noted that all the company’s operations could fit into Seattle’s Fishermen’s Terminal – twice.

“And that’s used as a place to park boats,” he said.

If the US wanted to produce the amount of salmon currently imported from Chile, it would take around 388 acres of cages.

"There are US companies prepared to invest," Cook said. "To remain a world leader, you have to be an aquaculture producer."

--Drew Cherry

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Tuesday, Feb. 11. 12:00 PST

What will automatically help US seafood demand?

Wegman's Carl Salamone said having an organics standard will help demand for all US seafood in retail markets.

"From a retail perspective, there's a constant upswell for US seafood," he said. "There's a home for both [organic and non-organic]. I can see the increasing seafood demand just by having the organic label."

-- Avani Nadkarni

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Tuesday, Feb. 11. 12:00 PST

Are we there yet?

NOAA Aquaculture Director Michael Rubino says he’s not pessimistic about the progress in US aquaculture development, but sees the same major hurdles: complicated permitting processes and politics.

“It’s not regulations that are standing in the way,” Rubino said. “It’s politics and social issues.”

NOAA is continuing to advocate for growth in the sector, but the tangled web of US agencies involved in approving permitting makes the process onerous – and that’s not counting state and private interests.

But Rubino said he does see some changing sentiment.

“Everybody knows the potential. Even the environmental community has even caught on,” Rubino said. ‘They’re starting to see the resource efficiency.”

The White House also has been supportive of aquaculture, but with a flat $850 million budget, NOAA isn’t getting any extra to throw at fish farming; currently around 1 percent of the budget is allocated to aquaculture.

“At the political level of this administration, they like the idea,” he said.

--Drew Cherry

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Tuesday, Feb. 11. 11:30am PST

Call to industry

George Lockwood has worked tirelessly for nearly a decade to try to get organic aquaculture USDA certified and now he's calling on the industry to help him.

"We will probably continue to see badly flawed recommendations coming from the NOSB (National Organics Standard Board) because our aquaculture expertise hasn't been (used) by them," Lockwood said. "We hope the aquaculture industry will get behind what we are recommending. We need the voices."

-- Avani Nadkarni

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Tuesday, Feb. 11. 11:15am PST

Buying organic

During an organic certification mini-session, Wegman's Carl Salamone brought in the consumer's point of view.

"Organic is growing tremendously, whether it's produce, whether it's the meat department," he said. "It's very perplexing that every other department can be [organic] but seafood."

USDA's Max Holtzman agreed. "Organic is the fastest-growing sector of agriculture," he noted.

-- Avani Nadkarni

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Tuesday, Feb. 11. 11:00am PST

On the cusp of progress?

A new group is getting serious about advocating for US aquaculture development. The Coalition for US Seafood Production (CUSP), founded by the Soy Aquaculture Alliance (SAA) and a handful of other companies, including Darden Restaurants,  is hoping to build enough momentum to get US lawmakers to pay attention to their encouragement to develop the sector.

“We are not doing enough to go out and ask for aquaculture development,” SAA Executive Director Steven Hart said.

The group held its first official meeting in June 2013, and is now recruiting new members to develop its strategic plan, which will include developing concepts for commercial-scale demos that can help trial new technologies.

--Drew Cherry

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Tuesday, Feb. 11. 10:45am PST

Organic aquaculture finally in sight?

At a small, informal meeting of the National Organic Aquaculture Working Group Tuesday, USDA's Max Holtzman said a proposed rule on organic aquaculture should be out in a few months--and then it's the industry's turn to give feedback during a 60-day comment period.

Currently, farmed fish cannot bear a USDA organic certified label but can use a third-party label, such as the European Union label.

"It's a priority of the organics division of the USDA to get this through," said Holtzman.

--Avani Nadkarni

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Tuesday, Feb. 11. 10:40am PST

Alaska: Farmed salmon's last frontier

In the drive to expand US aquaculture, it's clear offshore holds the most promise.

The US holds 8 percent of the total global Exclusive Economic Zone, the largest of any other maritime nation, FAO Consultant James Trapetsky told attendees at the Soy Aquaculture Alliance's coalition meeting.

Of that, 30 percent is located off the coast of Alaska.

With Atlantic salmon being a proven winner in cold waters and a top candidate for offshore aquaculture, the two would fit together naturally and provide the next big area for salmon production.

Of course, finfish aquaculture is illegal in Alaska state waters. But with the right political will, the right regulations and a little time -- we may yet see salmon farming off the coast of Alaska.

-- Drew Cherry

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Tuesday, Feb. 11. 9:50am PST

Here comes cobia

James Kapetsky, a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) consultant, has seen the future of offshore aquaculture, and its name is Cobia.

In a research study, co-authored by Kapetsky, on the global potential for offshore development, he and fellow researchers found some 97,000 square kilometers of the world's EEZ is suitable for Cobia farming.

If only 1 percent of that area is used, some 9.6 million metric tons could be produced. If 5 percent was used -- 48.1 million metric tons could be produced, Kapetsky told attendees at the Soy Aquaculture Alliance's coalition meeting.

Offshore area suitable for salmon farming, by the way, was put at 2,447 square kilometers. If 1 percent of that was used, an estimated 242,000 metric tons of additional farmed salmon would go onto the market. At 5 percent, a whopping 1.2 million metric tons of additional product could be produced.

-- Drew Cherry

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Tuesday, Feb. 11. 9:35am PST

Aquaculture High

More and more schools in the United States are adding aquaculture competitions, creating a new wave of researchers and a youth movement of Future Farmers of America (FFA) members.

Kevin Fitzsimmons, said the middle school and high school program has grown rapidly in the last five years and has been dominating science fairs. The FFA is also providing students of rural schools a unique job opportunity they wouldn't have otherwise.

-- Josh Stilts

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Tuesday, Feb. 11. 9:05am PST

Who's going to eat paddlefish, anyway?

Alex Squadrito said paddlefish is being introduced in African and Asian markets -- but it's being tested much closer to home, too.

There have been blind tastings of the species in restaurants in the Kentucky area, he said, and "people really like it."

Squadrito expects to see more paddlefish offered in mainstream US markets in the near future.

-- Avani Nadkarni

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Tuesday, Feb. 11. 9:00am PST

America's next top species: the challenges

At Monday's plenary, Kentucky State University's Alex Squadrito mentioned paddlefish as the next top species. At the paddlefish session Tuesday, Squadrito and his colleague Paul Auberry noted the challenges the species still has to overcome in order to do so.

In a study done by Auberry and his team, he found that 37 percent of catfish reached market size in 150 days while 32 percent of paddlefish did. However, Auberry said, another 37 percent of paddlefish just missed the mark for being considered "market size." With a diet designed specifically for paddlefish--there are none yet--this could ramp up market size paddlefish production to 70 percent.

--Avani Nadkarni

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Tuesday, Feb. 11. 8:50am PST

Soy's 'selfish' drive to grow aquaculture

The Soy Aquaculture Alliance and its affiliated groups see huge opportunities in aquaculture, and are in Seattle unveiling their latest resarch projects in the sector, and making the case for the growing role soy beans should play in aqua feeds.

Mike  Beard, director of the United Soybean Alliance, noted that soy is already the No. 1 ingredient in aquaculture feed, but there's room for more, particularly with the rising costs of fishmeal and fish oil.

"It's an opportunity to market more soy to a very fast growing market," Beard said. "The closer we have looked, the greater the possibly we see to increase inclusion in aquaculture feed."

USB's projects don't at first appear necessarily soy-related. Research on offshore cages, raceways, and copper alloy netting are all part of helping what is becoming a more and more important driver for soy farmers.

"Our goal is to support high-impact projects that ultimately -- and selfishly -- will bring more value to US soybean farmers."

Among species being researched by the soy sector are milkfish, seriola, yellowtail and Asian sea bass.

-- Drew Cherry

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Monday, Feb. 10. 4pm PST

NOAA: Focused on existing species, not new

At the Town Hall session, Humboldt State University student Eli Robinson asked the panel of government agency representatives if they are working in research on new freshwater species, which could boost the industry.

Not quite, said NOAA's Jeff Silverstein.

"Right now, our research is focused on existing species," he said, noting species such as striped bass and pompano.

-- Avani Nadkarni

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Monday, Feb. 10, 3:40pm PST

Government needs to 'take risks'

The panel of government representatives, from agencies such as the USDA and FDA, got quite an earful at the Monday afternoon Town Hall session.

"We have not, as a country, made a definitive statement that is in our best interest to have an aquaculture industry," Maine Aquaculture Association's Sebastian Belle said. "The only way we are going to move forward [is if our government] take risks, the same we way take risks [in the private sector.]"

-- Avani Nadkarni

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Monday, Feb. 10, 3:30pm PST

Changing the perception

During the Town Hall session, where audience members asked questions of various government agency representatives, the topic of ramping up aquaculture in the United States was inevitably brought up.

"It'd be no more difficult to start an aquaculture operation than it is to start any other agriculture operation," said the USDA's Max Holtzman. "I think the timing is absolutely right for the industry to get into this (but) there are a lot of detractors who don't rely on facts as much as they should."

The industry needs to market its product better, he said. He pointed out that other proteins have taglines that immediately pop into mind -- "pork, the other white meat" or "beef, it's what's for dinner," but "there's not a narrative like that for seafood."

-- Avani Nadkarni

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Monday, Feb. 10, 12.30pm PST

Copper alternative

Global company Garware-Wall Ropes Limited, which pulls in $110 million in annual sales worldwide, says it has a solution for the challenges of copper paint for fish farming nets and the issue of seals and sea lions attacking fish.

The manufacturing company has created several nets to combat these specific challenges, including easy-to-clean knotless nets, which allows for delayed defouling.

In addition, the new polyethylene nets can be hung tightly, eliminating the risk of seals pushing through the slacking.

Garware's Gopakumar Menon told IntraFish that top Canadian farmers, including Cooke Aquaculture, are loyal customers.

Garware also counts companies in Norway, Scotland, Chile and New Zealand as customers.

-- Avani Nadkarni

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Monday, Feb. 10, 11.55am PST

Soy protein concentrate better than soybean oil?

A 10-week experiment done with yellow perch by Vikas Kumar of Ohio State University concluded that soy protein concentrate is not only comparable to fishmeal, but may be better than soybean oil.

Up to 50 percent of fishmeal can be replaced with soy protein concentrate, Kumar said during the Soy in Aquafeeds breakout session Monday.

"It's a promising new ingredient," he said.

-- Avani Nadkarni

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Monday, Feb. 10, 11.50am PST

Lots of room to grow aquaculture

With the largest land area and marine exclusion zone in the world, if the United States, the 13th largest producer at nearly 500,000 metric tons, the US has huge potential for growth.

If the US used its land and marine resources as Bangladesh does, which produces 1.3 million metric tons, it would create enough seafood to meet the global demand, according to panelists at the 2014 Aquaculture American show.

-- Josh Stilts

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Monday, Feb. 10, 11.45am PST

Aquaculture has been forgotten on Capitol Hill

How does aquaculture grow in the United States? Aquaculture America panelists say the key is getting the government involved.

"We've let other's define aquaculture for us," said Michael Rust, NOAA representative.

George Lockwood has spent more than 30 years in aquaculture and said now, more than ever, the industry needs a presence in Washington D.C.

"We need an active aquaculture association in Washington D.C., a lobbyist," he said. "Put together 100 growers, build a complete critique of the industry. "

Both panelists said the "infighting" needs to stop as well.

"We live in a glass house and throw rocks at each other, Rust said. "We have to become an and organization not an or organization. "

The industry also needs to gather a more public image, getting their products on popular television shows.

"Who has been the secret ingredient on Iron Chef? We are health food, we are medicine, Rust said. "Why aren't we on the Food Network?"

-- Josh Stilts

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Monday, Feb. 10, 9:43am PST

Freshwater crab booming in China

Last year, China reached a milestone, producing more than 800,000 metric tons of Mitten crab, a freshwater crab, Patrick Sorgeloos said during the plenary of the 2014 Aquaculture America show in Seattle.

Grown alongside thousands of rice paddies, Sorgeloos said the crab is so popular it's often transported thousands of kilometers into China. The question raised is how and when the market will move globally? 

-- Josh Stilts

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Monday, Feb. 10, 9:40am PST

What can be done?

Ghent University Professor Patrick Sorgeloos said in 10 years, the world has to produce 50 percent more aquaculture than it currently is.

"I'm not as optimistic as FAO that we can reach that" with current production he said.

So what challenges need to be addresses? Cooperation with different industries and countries, he said, along with changing legislation, particularly for offshore production.

-- Avani Nadkarni

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Monday, Feb. 10, 9:39am PST

Bold words

"I think Europe will never be self-sufficient [in seafood]," said Ghent University Professor Patrick Sorgeloos during his talk on world aquaculture production.

The United States can be, he said, and should focus on ramping up aquaculture production. He urged the industry to encourage it to address it's challenges sooner rather than later, Sorgeloos said.

--Avani Nadkarni

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Monday, Feb. 10, 9:30am PST

The new farmed species?

Freshwater aquaculture in the United States has been declining about 3 percent a year since 2003, said Kentucky State University student Alex Squadrito on Monday at the opening of the World Aquaculture Society's conference in Seattle.

A solution--the ramping up of paddlefish, which is native to the United States. Other positives of farming the species include it's boneless meat, it's ability to grow fast, produce caviar, breed in captivity and to filter feed on zooplankton.

--Avani Nadkarni

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Monday, Feb. 10, 9:00am PST

Lifetime Achievement Award goes to...

Longtime aquaculture industry veteran Dr. Gary Jensen was given the US Aquaculture Society's (USAS) Lifetime Achievement Award on Monday at the opening of the World Aquaculture Society's conference in Seattle.

Jensen, who's been in the industry since the 1970s, had shown "not only commitment, but passion," said outgoing USAS President Kevin Hopkins.

--Avani Nadkarni

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Monday, Feb. 10, 8:40am PST

Taylor Shellfish's Dewey wins award

Washington-based Taylor Shellfish's Bill Dewey nabbed an award for outstanding work in the aquaculture industry, an annual award, during the opening plenary session of Aquaculture America.

Dewey has done exemplary work with local, state and federal governments regarding shellfish aquaculture.

--Avani Nadkarni

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Sunday, Feb. 9, 7:30pm  PST

Sleepless in Seattle

After a day of set-up, attendees of Aquaculture America 2014 are gearing up for three days of meetings, sessions and networking in Seattle, which is just thawing out after its first snowy day in two winters. The plenary session begins bright and early at 8:30am Monday, while the show floor opens at 10am.

--Avani Nadkarni