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Aquaculture Enterprises: Considerations and Strategies

Aquaculture Enterprises: Considerations and Strategies

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quaculture has received considerable
interest because of increased con-
sumer demand for fish and shellfish,
and a declining fisheries catch. Aquaculture
is expanding to exploit the resulting marketpotential. However, aquaculture producers
must compete with wild-harvested products,
as well as other farm-raised and imported
products, in a very competitive market that
includes other protein sources, such as beef,
pork, and chicken.
Many of your decisions will depend on whatyou want to do with your aquaculture enter-
prise. Will it be a small part of your farm-
ing operation, or are you looking to become
a full-time aquaculturist? But whetherit is a small or a full-time operation, you
will need to treat it as a business to make a 
profit. As in all businesses, you will need
to acquire knowledge, have working capital,
and provide labor and management.
In the article
The Small Fish Farmer—Is
There a Niche? 
, James W. Avault, Jr., Loui-
siana State University Professor Emeritus of the Aquaculture Research Station, explains
that farming an aquaculture species has
many similarities to crop farming.
Simply put, aquaculture is agriculture.A simple comparison of steps involved incorn production and channel catfish
farming follow:
Corn Production
: 1. Secure funds to begin;
2. Plow ground; 3. Plant seeds; 4. Fertilizesoil; 5. Control weeds and insects; 6. Con-trol parasites and disease; and 7. Harvest,
process, market.
Catfish Farming
: 1. Secure funds and per-mits to begin if needed; 2. Build ponds andget a source of water; 3. Stock fingerlings;4. Fertilize pond water and/or feed fish,and maintain good water quality; 5. Controlweeds, wild fish, and pests; 6. Control para-sites and diseases; and 7. Harvest, process,market. Once these concepts are under-stood, you must establish goals and prefer-ably put them in writing….Once you visual-ize short- and long-range goals, a feasibilitystudy should be conducted. Begin with a 
checklist. A partial list might include: which
species to culture, where to locate, any legalconstraints, marketing potential, profit out-
look, and other aspects. (Avault, 2002)
 Aquaculture Site Evaluation Ques-tionnaire
from West Virginia Univer-sity Extension can be used to help deter-mine whether your proposed aquaculture
Aquaculture—the cultivation of fish and aquatic animals and plants—is expanding to meet consumer
demand. This publication surveys the important considerations for planning an aquaculture enterprise.It will help you identify the production system, species, and marketing strategy most appropriate to your
situation. The wide range of cultured species and production methods makes it impossible to provide
a full discussion of aquaculture in a single document of this kind. Determining the best aquaculture
enterprise for you will require considerable research, beginning with the list of resources and contactslisted in the
Further Resources
section and in the four
A Publication of ATTRA - National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service 1-800-346-9140 www.attra.ncat.org
ATTRA — National Sustainable
Agriculture Information Service
is managed by the National Cen-
ter for Appropriate Technology
(NCAT) and is funded under agrant from the United StatesDepartment of Agriculture’s
Rural Business-Cooperative Ser-
vice. Visit the NCAT Web site
html) for more informa-
tion on our sustainable
agriculture projects.
Introduction .....................1Motivation and Goals ...2Organic Aquaculture ....2Natural and PersonalResources ..........................3Regulatory Aspects .......4Species ...............................4Production Systems ......5Marketing ..........................6Business Planning ..........7Summary ..........................8Further Resources .........8References ........................9Appendices ...................10Appendix IList of U.S. RegionalAquaculture Centers ...10Appendix IISea Grant Programs ...10Appendix IIIAquaculture Book Dealers .............................14Appendix IVNames of CommonAquaculture Species ...15
By Lance GegnerNCAT AgricultureSpecialist©NCAT 2006
Aquaculture Enterprises:Considerations and Strategies
Market-size catfish under harvest.Photo by Peggy Greb.Photo courtesy of USDA/ARS.
Page 2
Aquaculture Enterprises: Considerations and Strategies
operation will meet the basic requirements
for both natural and personal resources nec-essary to operate successfully. The question-
naire is located at
Motivation and Goals
To begin, you need to ask yourself why you
want to start an aquaculture enterprise—
what are your goals? The goal of a subsis-
tence enterprise is to produce the amountof fish needed by a family at minimumcost; whereas the goal of a commercialenterprise is to produce the greatest profitwith the available resources. Farm diver-sification is a common goal of many aqua-
culturists. Most aquaculture experts advise
prospective aquaculturists to set modestinitial goals (with lower resource require-ments) and expand them as they gainexperience. This advice can be followedby starting with a small-scale subsistence
enterprise and gradually expanding it into a 
small commercial operation for farm diver-sification. Eventually, if the success of theaquacultural enterprise warrants, commer-
cial aquaculture could become the main
farm activity.
Organic Aquaculture
Consumer concerns over reports of contam-
inants in farmed and wild seafood is lead-
ing to increased interest in organic fish and
seafood. However, as of July 2005, there
are no organic aquaculture standards other
than the general USDA National OrganicProgram (NOP) standards for organic live-stock production. The NOP standards,
including livestock standards, are available
www.ams.usda.gov/nop/NOP/standards/ StandardsNoScript.htm
. These NOP live-stock standards must be followed for anyanimal or product sold with the USDA
organic seal.
The Alternative Farming Systems Informa-
tion Center (AFSIC) at the USDA NationalAgriculture Library published the docu-ment
Organic Aquaculture AFSIC Notes #5 
in January 2005. It states:
Defining “organic aquaculture” is very much
a work-in-progress and, for many reasons,an endeavor marked by controversy. Mem-
bers of both the organic and the aquaculture
communities disagree on how, or even if,
aquatic animal and plant production systems
can qualify as “organic” as the term is com-
monly used. Any potential definition must be
a multi-faceted one. “Organic” in the context
of food production connotes standards andcertification—a verifiable claim for the pro-duction process and production practices—as well as more elusive characteristics such
as consumer expectation for food quality andsafety and general environmental, social, andeconomic benefits for farmers and for society.
The variety of species produced in aquacul-
tural systems and vast differences in cultural
requirements for finfish, shellfish, mollusks,and aquatic plants add to the complexity of defining this sector. Some species and someproduction systems may prove quite difficult
to adapt to a traditional “organic” system….
Interpreting practices and standards devel-oped for terrestrial species into practicesand standards relevant to aquatic species,both animal and plant, remains a majorchallenge for organic aquaculture. How canaquatic operations comply with the require-
ments for an organic system plan, for obtain-
ing acceptable stock, for implementing health
care monitoring and management, for main-taining prescribed “living conditions,” fordevelopment and acceptance of allowed andprohibited substances lists, for organic feedrequirements, for controlled post-harvest
processing, for nutrient management, and for
required animal identification and record-
keeping? (Boehmer et al., 2005)
Even if there are no official NOP organicaquaculture standards, the 2001 National
Organic Standards Board’s (NOSB) Aquatic
Animal Task Force did make some recom-mendations that are available at
. However,
it is important to remember that the NOSB
recommendations are not official untilthey have been approved and adopted by
the USDA.
In addition, the NOP created the AquaticAnimals Task Force—Aquaculture Work-ing Group in 2005 to provide recom-mendations. The list of members on thistask force is at
Aquaponics:Integration of Hydroponics withAquacultureAgricultural BusinessPlanning Templatesand Resources
Related ATTRAPublications
Page 3
For the interval, until official aquaculture
standards are approved, the USDA National
Organic Program has issued a GuidanceStatement (April 13, 2004), Topic Area—National Organic Program Scope, explain-ing that the Organic Foods Production Act(OFPA) does provide coverage for aquatic
animals. The Guidance Statement says:
• Fish and seafood, farm-raised or wild-caught. Although OFPA provided coveragefor aquatic organic standards, NOP has notdeveloped any standards for proposal to the
public for comment.
The products listed above may not displaythe USDA organic seal and may not implythat they are produced or handled to theUSDA NOP standards. Consumers shouldbe aware that the use of labeling terms such
as “100% organic,” “organic,” or “made with
organic ingredients” on these products maybe truthful statements. But these statementsdo not imply that the product was produced
in accordance with the USDA NOP standards
nor that the producer is certified under the
NOP standards.
This means that even if there are no
national standards for organic aquaculture,
organic certifying agencies that have aqua-
culture standards and are accredited by
USDA may certify aquaculture products as
organic, but the products are
not allowed
to carry the USDA organic label. So, if you
are interested in pursuing an organic label,
you will need to find an accredited organic
certifying agent that has aquaculture stan-dards. The list of USDA accredited certi-
fying agents is listed at
At this writing (2005), there are onlytwo certified organic aquacultureoperations in the United States, bothshrimp farms. OceanBoy in Florida, at
, and Permian Sea 
in Texas, at
are both certified by Quality Certification
Services (QCS).
Natural and PersonalResources
Natural resources such as water, land, soil,
and climate strongly influence the choice of 
species and production system. Abundant,
high-quality water is usually the single most
crucial resource. Land can be limiting if 
the topography is not favorable for the con-
struction of ponds, or if land is dedicatedto other productive uses. Soil propertiesmust be considered in pond construction,
and soil fertility will influence pond produc-
tivity. Climate does not limit the scale of 
aquaculture, but it does determine the spe-
cies that can be grown (except in the caseof closed-system aquaculture technology
described below).
Production resources—capital, labor,and time—influence the choice of pro-duction system and species. Generally,
the more intensive the production system (i.e.,
the more fish grown per volume of water),
the more capital, labor, and time required.
For example, lightly stocked farmponds practically take care of them-selves, while closed systems need almost
continuous monitoring.
Industry resources—including supplies, ser-
vices, and markets—are well developed in
some parts of the country for certain types
of aquaculture. For example, in the Missis-
sippi Delta Region, there are many catfishfeed manufacturers and catfish processing
facilities and a strong producer association
that supports marketing to promote catfishconsumption. If aquaculture of certain
species is less well developed in other parts
of the country, the aquaculturists in theseareas must be very resourceful. Producer
organizations are valuable sources of infor-
mation about markets and marketing.
In order for an aquaculture enterpriseto remain viable and profitable, it mustbe environmentally sound. Environmen-tal issues, such as safety of fish and sea-food; water pollution by excess nutrients;
destruction of coastal habitats; and damage
to natural fish stocks by accidental releaseof farmed, exotic, or bio-engineered spe-cies, are major concerns for many con-sumers and need to be addressed by the
aquaculture industry.
Technical resources, information, andexpertise are critical to aquaculturists.
roducer organiza-tions arevaluable sources of information about markets and marketing.

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