New report highlights fish farming in Wisconsin

Article was written by Leigh Presley, Agriculture Extension Educator. 
Originally published in the Kenosha News.

A shortage of wild-caught yellow perch from Lake Erie is threatening the Wisconsin fish fry as we know it.

The cause of the shortage, like the fish, seems hard to find. Warmer water temperatures and predation by larger fish might be to blame.

Whatever the reason, while we wait for perch populations to hopefully increase, we might just have to order the walleye.

Shortages of wild-caught fish highlight the value of a different way of sourcing fish. Fish farming, or aquaculture, provides another option — a way to produce fish without relying on the complex systems of the open water.

In Wisconsin, fish farming is a $21 million industry. It represents a growing part of our food production system and may have a more important role in the future if wild fish populations continue to decline.

A survey conducted by the University of Wisconsin researchers collected insight from our state’s fish farmers to gain an understanding of the industry and better support fish farmers and fish eaters.

Survey results

Survey results were recently released in a report titled “Aquaculture in Wisconsin.” A few highlights from the report provide a general overview of what fish farming looks like in our state:

A majority of Wisconsin’s fish farms are small businesses in terms of pounds of fish produced per year (less than 20,000 pounds).

Selling fish directly to consumers (other than farmer’s markets) was the most common distribution method, followed by selling to restaurants and selling to farmer’s markets.

Rainbow trout is the most commonly farmed food fish in Wisconsin, followed by tilapia, yellow perch, salmon and sunfish.

Most respondents use ponds to raise fish. To adopt more complex systems such as aquaponics or recirculation, farmers may need additional training and technical assistance.

Other report highlights illustrate the strengths fish farmers see in their industry.

The majority of the fish farmers surveyed agreed that their aquaculture businesses are environmentally sustainable and satisfy their existing customers.

Most fish farmers reported that they pursued their careers in aquaculture out of personal interest and enjoyment as well as for the quality of life the work provides.

Slightly more fish farmers believed their production would increase rather than decrease in the next five years.

Challenges, strengths

The survey also assessed challenges to the aquaculture industry.

Like many businesses, input costs and regulations are a constraint for fish farmers. Over half of respondents agreed that the cost of fish feed, cost of utilities, the risk of changing regulations and the cost of complying with regulations negatively affected their fish farming businesses.

Fish farmers also see opportunities to strengthen the industry:

Wisconsin fish farmers highly favored the policy of tax breaks for fish farms that use environmentally sustainable methods.

A majority of fish farmers also favored or strongly favored industry- and government-sponsored research on aquaculture.

For more information about aquaculture in Wisconsin and to find how you can incorporate locally raised fish into your Friday fry, visit www.seagrant.wisc.edu/our-work/focus-areas/aquaculture/ and wisconsinaquaculture.com.