Addressing Concerns for Water Quality Impacts
from Large-Scale Great Lakes Aquaculture

Based on a Roundtable
Co-hosted by the Habitat Advisory Board of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission
the Great Lakes Water Quality Board of the International Joint Commission

August, 1999

Appendix 5

Status and Expected Growth of Aquaculture - U.S. Experiences
by Donald L. Garling, Jr.
Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan
and Ted R. Batterson
North Central Regional Aquaculture Center, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan.


Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations defines aquaculture as the farming of aquatic organisms, including fish, molluscs, crustaceans, and aquatic plants. Farming implies some form of intervention in the rearing process to enhance production, such as regular stocking, feeding, protection from predators, etc. Farming also implies individual or corporate ownership of the stock being cultivated (FAO 1996) which distinguishes aquaculture from the harvest fishery.

The worldwide production of aquatic organisms from all sources has increased from 95.6 million tonnes in 1987 to 121.0 million tonnes in 1996 (H.M. Johnson and Associates 1998). Over this ten-year period, an increasing proportion of this global production is being supplied by the private sector aquaculture community. In 1996, the last year for which there is published data, almost 22% of the total aquatic production, 26.4 million tonnes, was supplied by aquaculture. This represents almost a 150% increase (2.5 times) over the 1987 production level of 10.6 million tonnes. The United States is a relatively minor player in the context of world aquaculture production, accounting for a little less than 2% of the total tonnage, and ranking only tenth in the world in terms of economic value of its aquaculture products in 1994 (FAO 1996).

United States Overview

Even though minor in a global context, U.S. aquaculture is still an important primary industry, creating approximately 181,000 jobs nationwide and generating an estimated $5.6 billion (U.S.) annually (Dicks et al. 1996). It also exhibited considerable expansion throughout the 1980s and 1990s, more or less reflecting global trends in aquaculture growth. U.S. production increased from 219,619 tonnes in 1987 to 314,657 tonnes in 1996 (Table 1), while the farm-gate value has risen from $437.1 million (U.S.) to $885.6 million (U.S.) during the same period (USDC/NOAA/NMFS 1998). Most of the increase in production and value during this ten-year period is primarily due to one species, the channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus), while the development of most other sectors of the U.S. aquaculture industry have lagged behind (USDC/NOAA/NMFS 1998).

Table 1. U.S. aquaculture production in tonnes (UDC/NOAA/NMFS 1998). Data for most groups of fish/shellfish are for those produced and sold for food.

Year Catfish Crawfish Trout Baitfish Oysters Salmon Other Shellfish1 Misc.2 Total
1987 127,232 31,752 25,513 11,794 10,853 1,825 2,826 7,824 219,619
1988 133,861 29,868 25,416 11,975 11,067 3,074 2,446 9,201 226,908
1989 155,085 29,937 25,187 10,889 10,095 3,857 2,035 11,500 248,585
1990 163,492 32,205 25,772 9,802 10,066 4,114 2,844 11,403 259,698
1991 177,297 27,481 26,954 9,608 9,359 7,599 3,411 12,312 274,021
1992 207,460 28,591 25,521 9,352 10,880 10,858 4,070 16,786 313,518
1993 208,207 25,757 24,785 9,332 11,067 11,466 5,918 11,370 307,902
1994 199,251 22,263 23,621 9,847 12,708 11,210 4,402 18,628 301,930
1995 202,706 26,375 25,371 9,870 10,533 14,204 3,148 21,206 313,413
1996 214,154 21,130 24,322 9,457 8,412 13,906 3,486 19,790 314,657

1Other shellfish includes clams, mussels, and salt water shrimp
2Miscellaneous includes striped bass, tilapia, ornamental/tropical fish, alligators, algae, aquatic plants, eels, scallops, crabs, and others

Overview of Aquaculture in the U.S. Great Lakes States

Aquaculture production in the eight Great Lakes states is characterized by great diversity with numerous species of aquatic organisms being cultured by more than 1,000 producers. This includes production of food-fish, baitfish, fish for stocking recreational and ornamental water bodies including fee-fishing operations, as well as aquatic plants for food, wetland mitigation, and water gardening. These organisms are cultured under a variety of conditions, ranging from extensive culture in natural ponds and lakes (e.g., walleye, Stizostedion vitreum, fingerling production and wild rice, Zizania aquatica) to highly intensive raceway culture and indoor recirculating systems. Other culture systems include constructed ponds, tanks, and cage culture (but only in inland waters).

Numerous aquatic organisms are being cultured in the eight Great Lakes states (Table 2). The more commonly cultured types include many of those same species permitted for culture in Ontario.

Table 2. Common species currently cultured in the U.S. Great Lakes states.

Common name Scientific name
Atlantic salmona Salmo salar
Chinook salmonb Oncorhynchus tshawytscha
Coho salmonb Oncorhynchus kisutch
Brown troutb Salmo trutta
Brook troutc Salvelinus fontinalis
Rainbow troutb Oncorhynchus mykiss
Northern Pike Esox lucius
Common carp (koi)b Cyprinus carpio
Triploid grass carpb Ctenopharyngodon idella
Goldfishb Carassius auratus
Channel catfish Ictalurus punctatus
Blue Catfishb Ictalurus furcatus
Hybrid Striped Bassd Morone spp. crosses
Largemouth bass Micropterus salmoides
Smallmouth bass Micropterus dolomieu
Common name Scientific name
Bluegill Lepomis macrochirus
Bluegill hybrids Lepomis spp. crosses
Redearb Lepomis microlophus
Black crappie Pomoxis nigromaculatus
Walleye Stizostedion vitreum
Yellow perch Perca flavescens
Tilapia of the generab Oreochromis, Sarotheradon, and Tilapia spp.
White sucker Catostomus commersoni
Fathead minnow Pimephales promelas
Golden shiner Notemigonus crysoleucas
Emerald shiner Notropis atherinoides
Crayfish Orconectes, Procambarus, and Cambarus spp.
Wild rice Zizania aquatica

aNative only to Lake Ontario; introduced into other Great Lakes
bNot native to any of the Great Lakes
cNative to all but Lake Erie where it was introduced
dWhite bass (Morone chrysops) native to all of the Great Lakes but striped bass (Morone saxatalis) native only to the St. Lawrence River

Unfortunately, most historical time-series data for both the quantity and economic value of private aquaculture in these states are generally lacking. There have been some trout data that dates back to the late 1980s collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service on four of the Great Lakes states: Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New York. However, time-series data for other aquacultural species goes back only several years at best, and are available for only a few of the Great Lakes states. In our opinion, the data that does exist are minimal estimates of what is actually being produced and sold, and there are virtually no quantitative data for those non-food or non-sport aquatic organisms (e.g., ornamental fish, tropical aquaria organisms, and most aquatic plants) in the Great Lakes basin. It is believed that this sector of aquaculture is large and diffuse, and it is estimated that the value of this sector equals or exceeds the total combined value of all food and sport sectors of aquaculture.

In response to a growing interest to quantify the size of the private aquaculture industry, the National Agricultural Statistics Service is undertaking the first-ever comprehensive Census of Aquaculture for 1998. Survey forms were mailed out in December to the nation's aquaculture producers to collect data for the 1998 calendar year. The census will provide a benchmark of the industry's size and diversity. Results from this census will provide the only source of uniform, comprehensive data on production and sales of aquaculture products. The census will be conducted every five years or as the industry requires it. The 1998 Census of Aquaculture data will provide practical information to: (1) help producers understand their industry and decide which species to raise, (2) facilitate program planning by aquaculture organizations, Congress, and State governments that help aquaculture operators receive the most for their investments, (3) assist suppliers of materials and services to allocate and distribute their goods and make other management decisions, and (4) enable policymakers to evaluate programs affecting aquaculture production. Results from the 1998 Census of Aquaculture will be available beginning in the fall of 1999 for free on the Internet at and at selected universities, colleges, and public libraries.

Table 3 presents estimated values for the main types of cultured organisms in the Great Lakes states with most of the data being obtained through an informal survey of the industry. The total value for all cultured organisms for 1994 and/or 1995 is at least $54.4 million (U.S.).

Future Outlook for the U.S. Great Lakes States

What are outlooks for the future of private aquaculture in the Great Lakes states? The potential is great, but there is cautious optimism as to how the industry will grow and expand over the next five years and into the 21st century. There will be continued interest and support at the federal government level, but politics and the state of the economy will dictate the magnitude and intensity of support for industry growth. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Regional Aquaculture Center program will continue, probably at its current level of funding of about $4 million (U.S.) per year, which is equally divided amongst the five Centers. Hopefully a revised National Aquaculture Development Plan will be approved defining what the federal government can and should be doing to stimulate and support a competitive and sustainable U.S. aquaculture industry. It is also hoped that the growing interest on the part of the private sector and by many state agencies within the Great Lakes region will continue. Therefore, it is predicted that the industry should continue to grow, particularly for some of the emerging species such as yellow perch, walleye, hybrid striped bass, and tilapia. There appears to be good potential for growth in the recreational fishing sector. Production of bait for angling, ornamental fish and plants for water gardening, or stocking of public waters through privatizing the state and/or federal hatchery operations system, are all potential scenarios for restructuring of the region's aquaculture industry.

Table 3. Aquaculture in the U.S. Great Lakes states. Farm-gate values are estimates for 1994 and/or 1995.

State 1994 and/or 1995 farm-gate value (U.S.) Dominant type Other
Minnesota $12,750,000 wild rice baitfish, salmon/trout, walleye
Wisconsin $12,000,000 baitfish trout, walleye, yellow perch
Illinois $3,000,000 channel catfish largemouth bass, sunfish
Indiana $3,000,000 goldfish triploid grass carp, channel catfish, largemouth bass, sunfish
Michigan $4,000,000 trout baitfish, yellow perch, sunfish
Ohio $2,000,000 trout triploid grass carp, bass, sunfish
Pennsylvaniaa $13,795,000 trout ornamental fish, baitfish, hybrid striped bass
New Yorka $3,867,000 oysters northern quahog, trout, baitfish, salmon smolt
TOTAL $54,412,000

a Data from Spatz et al. (1996)

Organization of Regulatory Policies and Industry Associations

Although private aquaculture has been practiced in some fashion in most of the region for nearly a century, it is only in the last twenty or so years that there has been serious interest by regulators and industry groups in coordinating this activity. Currently, all U.S. Great Lakes states have private sector aquaculture associations and most have either interagency advisory committees or task forces dedicated to promoting, managing, or improving coordination of the numerous client groups which interact with this industry (Table 4). Five of the eight states have legally defined aquaculture as agriculture and in the other three states aquafarming is recognized as being an agricultural activity. Aquaculture plans have been developed for Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and New York. In all states, there has been formal, enabling legislation passed pertaining specifically to aquaculture. Michigan has passed an Aquaculture Development Act in 1996 and a bipartisan bill was introduced to the Pennsylvania legislature in 1997 which defines aquaculture as agriculture and calls for the development of a state plan for the industry.

Table 4. Status of the aquaculture industry and policy development for the Great Lakes states.

Stage of policy development MN WI IL IN MI OH PA NY
Aquaculture association × × × × × × × ×
Advisory committee/task force × × × × ×   ×  
Defined in statutes as agriculture ×   × × × × ?  
Aquaculture plan   × × ×       ×
Enabling legislation × × × × × × × ×

All states require a permit for the private culture of most aquatic animals and many aquatic plants (Table 5). These permits are either issued by a natural resource agency or a department of agriculture. All states usually require a permit for importation (although there are numerous exceptions to this general rule), and there are federal importation regulations for salmonids that are predicated on controlling the spread of pathogens which can impact either wild or farmed fish. All states prohibit the importation of certain species of aquatic organisms, but specific, prohibited species vary from state to state.

Table 5. Current regulatory environment in the Great Lakes states.

Regulatory policiesa MN WI IL IN MI OH PA NY
Permit required for private culture × × × × × × × ×
Wholesale or transportation permit required × × ×   × × × ×
List of allowable species ×   × × × × ×  
Allowable species determined on a case-by-case basis   ×           ×
Permit required for importation × × × × × × × ×
Import of certain species prohibited × × × × × × × ×

aWhere the regulation is enforced on a case-by-case basis, only for certain species, or can be modified, the state/province designation is underlined.

For the relatively small size of the aquaculture industry in the Great Lakes region, there is a disproportionately large infrastructure of federal and state agencies, in consultation with private sector groups, involved in the management of various pieces of legislation, regulations, and other policy matters affecting the industry. This owes to the seemingly complex nature of a business which spans a wide array of resource, food safety, animal health, and environmental issues to name but a few. In concert with the rapid expansion of production which has occurred over the last decade and the good potential for future growth, it is likely that regulatory constraints will become even more pervasive, rather than less, which may represent the singularly largest constraint to sustainable growth of aquaculture into the next decade. This fact underscores the need for government and industry to maintain open and collegial negotiations to resolve various issues as aquaculture in this region makes the transition from a small to a moderate-scale farming activity in the Great Lakes watershed.

Impediments to Future Growth of Aquaculture

There are many factors which may impede the growth and progress of this regional aquaculture industry as it moves towards the next millennium. International competition from Norway, Chile, the Indo-Pacific region, and other areas threatens the profitability for farming certain species such as salmon and tilapia. These countries developed aquaculture quickly to take advantage of the global "windows of opportunity" that existed during the late 1980s and early 1990s when the world economy was expanding and the wild fishery was being over-exploited.

Adequately tested production technologies and economic and marketing data are unavailable for most organisms that have traditionally been raised in the region. Diversification into non-traditional species requires a lengthy trial and error period of research and development, pilot testing, and market development (Garling 1992). Many years may be necessary to commercialize a "new" species, even when the technology is readily accessible. The lack of firm biological and financial data have made it difficult to secure significant capital for financing projects.

Many of the species that aquaculturists would like to raise in the Great Lakes region require warmer water temperatures to maximize growth and production. Recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) have been suggested as a means to meet these requirements. RAS often results in higher unit production costs which can seriously constrain profitability of the operations. Unless innovative new technologies are developed to raise these fish more cost-effectively, the region will only produce fish which are adapted to the regional climate and water quality conditions.

For the small farmer, there is a paucity of high quality and reputable processing plants that are convenient to deal with, which may influence new farms in the future to be larger and more vertically integrated. In fact, the economies of scale are such that small farms usually can only be competitive by producing some form of value-added product, and by providing a high level of customer service within a niche market.

The aquaculture industry considers the regulatory environment overburdensome and that it poses a formidable constraint to the region's industry growing more quickly and sustainably. Over-regulated in some areas, and under-regulated in others, the private sector deals with a complex, rapidly changing, and conflicting legislative environment which defies forward business planning in some cases. Slow access to water resources, lack of readily available chemotherapeutic agents, and difficulty in dealing with environmental and resource lobby groups are either direct or indirect examples of regulatory burdens that the aquaculture industry faces. Continued lack of public awareness of aquaculture and its products, also means that few people are sympathetic to an industry that they know little about.

Finally, societal and consumer attitudes towards aquaculture will be based on the industry maintaining a relatively untarnished record of environmental stewardship and food safety. This will be especially true during the period when the industry is attempting to convince the buyer that fish is a healthful, reasonably-valued, food item that can compete with the conventional beef, pork, and poultry products that control the predominant share of the North American meat marketplace.


Dicks, M.R., R. McHugh, and B. Webb. 1996. Economy-wide impact of U.S. aquaculture. P-946. Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station, Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater.

FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations). 1996. Aquaculture production statistics, 1985-1994. Fisheries Circular No. 815 Revision No. 8. Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy.

Garling, D. L. 1992. Making plans for commercial aquaculture in the north central region. North Central Regional Aquaculture Center (NCRAC) Fact Sheet #101, NCRAC Publications Office, Iowa State University, Ames.

Johnson, H.M., and Associates. 1998. Annual report on the United States seafood industry: 1998, sixth edition. H.M. Johnson and Associates, Bellevue, Washington.

Spatz, M.J., J.L. Anderson, and S. Jancart. 1996. Northeast region aquaculture industry situation and outlook report: 1994-1995. Rhode Island Experiment Station Publication No. 3352, Kingston, Rhode Island.

USDC/NOAA/NFS. 1998. Fisheries of the United States, 1997. Current Fisheries Statistics No. 9700. U.S Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Service, Silver Spring, Maryland.