New grant program could increase Gulf aquaculture

A new method is being tried to increase seafood production through the use of aquaculture. The Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission is awarding grants totaling $450,000 for new and unique aquaculture projects in the Gulf of Mexico.

The projects will range in size from $50,000 to $100,000 and will be given out starting in April to qualified projects.

Most of us here in South Mississippi love our seafood, but there’s a growing problem. There’s not enough of it. That’s the word from the USM Director of Aquaculture, Dr. Kelly Lucas.

“Worldwide, the wild caught fisheries is stagnant, and we’ve know that for some time. And so, the only way to increase the amount of seafood we produce is aquaculture,” Lucas explained.

Oysters are already being grown, but these new projects would be in deep water and concentrate on fish. Steve VanderKooy is with the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission.

“The intent of this batch of funding is to begin to look at what it would take to go through the permit process, what kind of gears, and begin to move forward towards actually getting offshore aquaculture,” VanderKooy said.

With any kind of aquaculture, there are always environmental concerns. This latest project is no different. Those concerns are being addressed, according to VanderKooy.

“There’s questions about what kind of impact that could have on other user groups, sources of food for that additional fish. Where are you going to put that kind of production?”

Aquaculture programs are the wave of the future, because fisheries are being depleted both in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

But, the people who study those oceans, like Lucas, say it also makes sense, because it’s a matter of dollars and cents.

“We have spent a lot of time developing technology that we have shipped overseas, and the overseas market has been working in aquaculture and shipping that seafood back to the United States. That has created a $14 billion deficit in the United States,” said Lucas.

If the federal grant money helps reduce that deficit with new and better fish farming, then everyone, including seafood lovers, will benefit.

The deadline to apply for the grants is Feb. 1 of next year. You can contact the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission in Ocean Springs for more information.

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