Joining Forces for Aquaculture
Attendees at the 24th annual Wisconsin Aquaculture Conference not only heard a keynote address from Steve Summerfelt, chief science officer at Superior Fresh, they also dined on salmon and greens from the state-of-the-art aquaponics facility located in Hixton, Wis. Superior Fresh is the United States’ first land-based Atlantic salmon producer and the world’s largest aquaponics operation. It’s also a Wisconsin success story, one example from a growing aquaculture industry.
The conference, held Feb. 15-16 in Eau Claire, brought together current aquaculture producers both large and small, those looking to enter the field, journalists, researchers and others. The conference was co-presented by the Wisconsin Aquaculture Association and the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point Northern Aquaculture Demonstration Facility (UWSP NADF), a national leader in aquaculture research. Roughly 155 people attended.
UWSP NADF, based in Bayfield, played a pivotal role as point of connection between the Wisconsin Aquaculture Association, Superior Fresh and other entities behind the conference. Emma Wiermaa, who works for both UWSP NADF and Wisconsin Sea Grant, helped organize the conference, as did UWSP NADF facility manager Greg Fischer.
At the conference, Wiermaa, an aquaculture outreach specialist stationed at UWSP NADF, presented research on raising walleye intensively in indoor systems. Titus Seilheimer, Wisconsin Sea Grant fisheries specialist, outlined the variety of ways in which Wisconsin Sea Grant supports aquaculture.
Fischer presented data on several ongoing Sea Grant-funded research projects addressing questions about raising walleye and saugeye intensively. Fischer feels that walleye is poised for a bright future. “We’re changing the future for aquaculture species with walleye. It will be the next big food fish for aquaculture in the Midwest, probably in the next five years,” he said.
Consumer opinions were a theme that arose several times during the day. Don Schreiner of Minnesota Sea Grant, who played a key role in bringing Minnesota representation to the conference, noted that aquaculture still needs to gain acceptance with some consumers.
Schreiner’s observations were echoed later in the day by Bret Shaw, a UW-Madison associate professor of life sciences communication who leads a research team investigating consumer attitudes towards Wisconsin farm-raised fish. Wisconsin Sea Grant is funding the study. Others on the research team include Wisconsin Sea Grant Social Scientist Deidre Peroff and Professor of Fisheries Biology Chris Hartleb of UWSP.
While Europeans generally view aquaculture positively, Shaw said, a significant chunk of Americans have negative perceptions of the industry and prefer wild-caught over farmed fish. But that can change, noted Shaw, because research shows that Wisconsin consumers trust Wisconsin aquaculture producers. “Wisconsin fish farmers are well positioned to be trusted advocates for their own products,” stated Shaw.
Further research during 2019 by Shaw and his team will test a variety of social media messages with consumers to gauge how they respond to various points about Wisconsin-farmed fish.
To learn more
A wealth of conference information is available online, including slides from many of the presenters, located at: https://www.uwsp.edu/cols-ap/nadf/Pages/Wisconsin-Aquaculture-Conference-2019.aspx.
For more information about the Wisconsin Aquaculture Association or to join, visit its website at https://www.wisconsinaquaculture.com/.