Increasing interest in local food means there's opportunity for expansion in Michigan's relatively small aquaculture industry, including the possibility of converting unused buildings in Detroit for raising fish, the director of state Department of Agriculture said Tuesday.
Keith Creagh spoke at a meeting of the Michigan Aquaculture Association in Tustin, about 45 miles south of Traverse City, and met with fish farmers who gathered for the event. He told The Associated Press in a telephone interview afterward that his department is interested in working with the industry to help it expand.
"There's great opportunity to grow some of our aquaculture species locally, process them locally," Creagh said.
In Detroit, there have been early discussions about using space in old buildings to raise tilapia, he said. Fish are already being raised in other cities. In Milwaukee, for example, former pro basketball player and urban farmer Will Allen has developed a fish farming system in which lake perch and tilapia are raised in water that also circulates to feed plants. Creagh had no details on plans in Detroit but said fish farming presented "a great opportunity."
"Maybe we could sell that in some of the local markets in Detroit," he said. "Those are the types of things that we can get pretty excited about, because it puts jobs plus a new food supply."
The Detroit mayor's office said Tuesday it wasn't aware of any current discussions about the idea.
The meeting at the 4-H Kettunen Center conference and retreat facility was focused on opportunities in Michigan for aquaculture, which includes fish farming in natural and manmade bodies of water. Creagh said there is optimism and excitement about prospects for the industry, noting the state's abundant freshwater resources and climate that's good for raising cold-water species.
Dan Vogler, president of the Michigan Aquaculture Association, said industry has been growing worldwide but generally has been stagnant in Michigan over the past decade with revenues estimated at about $5 million per year. He said that could double or quadruple in the next decade, but the state needs to evaluate its aquaculture regulations to ensure they make sense.
"The growth potential is there. The market potential is there," said Vogler, 42, whose family owns Harrietta Hills Trout Farm in the northwestern Lower Peninsula. "It's time to fish or cut bait, and get something moving."
Creagh's appointment by Gov. Rick Snyder took effect at the start of the year. The department is being renamed the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to reflect a broader mission, and that name change takes effect next month.