Progress for Minnesota’s aquaculture industry slow but steady – Bemidji Pioneer

Progress for Minnesota’s aquaculture industry slow but steady – Bemidji Pioneer

Clarence Bischoff has been part of the state’s aquaculture movement from the very beginning.

Bischoff is the founder and president of the Minnesota Aquaculture Association and CEO of Blue Water Farms. He was recently a guest on the Agweek Podcast, where he shared his optimism for the aquaculture industry in Minnesota.

In the early 2000s, after retiring from a 35-year career in human resources, Bischoff started holding study groups on the “seriousness of global ecological issues.” He said he quickly became aware that the main driver was the food production system.

“Since 2000, that’s been a theme in whatever I’ve done, to find a way to provide our food in a sustainable way,” said Bischoff. “And as I stayed with that topic, I discovered aquaculture.”

The more he learned about aquaculture the more he realized how undervalued it was in Minnesota. He said in those early years, he could hardly find anybody who was even aware of aquaculture.

Clarence Bischoff, founder and CEO of Blue Water Farms as well as the founder and president of the Minnesota Aquaculture Association, in his home office.
Noah Fish / Agweek

It took nearly two decades until representatives for aquaculture in Minnesota began to speak out and advocate for growth in the industry, said Bischoff. A moment he remembers feeling the momentum shift was in 2017, when the Minnesota Sea Grant program, a partnership of University of Minnesota-Duluth, sponsored a workshop on aquaculture.

As a result of that workshop and his own growing interest in aquaculture, Bischoff took steps in 2018 to create the Minnesota Aquaculture Association. The association is supported by industry member dues, scientists, volunteers and a team of seven volunteer board members.

Bischoff said he reached out to all major stakeholders shortly after MNAA began, and they’ve been a part of the conversations surrounding aquaculture since then.

“Now when we meet, I’m very happy to say that we have people there from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Minnesota Sea Grant, Minnesota’s Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI), and the state’s DNR,” said Bischoff.

Last month, AURI released a 111-page report detailing the opportunities and challenges for aquaculture in the state.

“Globally, aquaculture is one of the fastest-growing food industries,” reads the report summary. “The key drivers are technological developments, increased production, and growing understanding of the health benefits of fish consumption.”

Traditional ag producers could benefit from a future with a thriving aquaculture industry, said Bischoff. He said he’s worked with scientists who have plans for growing aquaculture feed using plant products and insect meal. Minnesota farmers willing to try new crops could benefit from those opportunities.

Bischoff said that for the state’s aquaculture industry to develop fully, Minnesota needs a comprehensive plan for growth. Although Minnesota does currently have an aquaculture plan, it is more than 30 years old and needs updating.

This fall, some of the state’s aquaculture representatives sounded off before the Minnesota Legislature’s House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee, in favor of a bill that would give $100,000 to the to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture to create an aquaculture plan.

Aquaculture is a $5 million …….


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