Marine Aquaculture Potential in Georgia

[Editor's note: There are great opportunities for expanding coastal Georgia's nature-based economy through the careful development of aquaculture businesses - raising, processing, and marketing fish and shellfish products using well-managed facilities as controlled habitats. Like other types of nature-based businesses, to be successful and sustainable, these endeavors must be compatible with the natural resource systems upon which they depend. The following article presents an overview of some important steps toward the realization of this promising potential in coastal Georgia.]

It is well recognized by most scientists and fisheries management personnel that the vast majority of America's, as well as worldwide, fisheries are in serious decline due to overfishing, mismanagement, and continued destruction of freshwater, brackish water, and marine habitats. As demands for edible fish and shellfish continue to increase, many state and federal agencies now consider aquaculture as the mechanism for the future production of the nation's seafood.

Marine aquaculture has been slow in coming to Georgia, but the potential for expansion is virtually limitless. As explained in the forum Exploring Marine Recirculating Aquaculture (sponsored by the McIntosh County Chamber of Commerce) held on August 30, 2001, in Darien, marine aquaculture can provide an economic basis for many of our coastal communities. For example, in Cedar Key, Florida, many fishermen lost their way of life when a ban on the use of fish nets was enacted by the Florida Legislature. With state support through training programs, fishermen were taught clam farming. Last year, sale of clams from the Cedar Key area topped $15,000,000. In addition, clam farming has spawned other businesses that cater to the clam farmers such as clam hatcheries or clam bag manufacturers.

In Georgia clam farming is relatively new with 10 farms in operation, all in McIntosh County. The University of Georgia Marine Extension Service with support from Georgia Sea Grant and the Sapelo Foundation helped to start clam farming in Georgia. With funds from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the Marine Extension Service is currently developing tidal powered clam nursery systems for growing small inexpensive seed clams up to a field planting size. Two commercial clam farmers will each receive a clam nursery system, while one marina operator will receive a third system.

The Marine Extension Service has also developed the soft-shell crab industry in Georgia. Currently 44 plants are in operation, most set up by aid from the University. These simple recirculating systems generate approximately $750,000 per year for the fishermen. Present efforts by the Marine Extension Service are investigating the potential of black sea bass culture for sale in the lucrative sushi markets. Little is known about rearing this species. The Marine Extension Service is conducting experiments to determine the optimum biological parameters required to rear this fish species. The University is working with Gary Kinard of Georgia Aqua Farms to establish a recirculating fish growing system for operation in McIntosh County. It is the University's belief that a recirculating fish system, when operated correctly, can provide an environmentally friendly business opportunity for all of coastal Georgia.
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