This is round two for those 10 regional economic development councils Gov. Andrew Cuomo created last year to find worthy projects and compete for state funding. Few projects are as exciting, or have as much potential, as one being promoted by the Mohawk Valley council. It’s called Project Aqua, a giant fish farm that would be created at the Glen Canal Business Park in Montgomery County.
Aquaculture is a growth industry in other states and the rest of the world, but there’s little of it in New York state. And most of what there is is not at fish farms that produce food for the table, but at hatcheries that produce stock for fishermen.
The reason it’s a growth industry is that demand for fish, a good, tasty source of protein, is on the rise worldwide while the ocean fishery is in decline. Approximately half of all fish eaten globally come from aquaculture, much of it imported. Eighty percent of the fish consumed in the United States is imported, a big contributor to our trade deficit.
Besides opposition from commercial fishermen, one of the things that has held back aquaculture in this country is concern about sustainability. When fish are grown in outside pens, effluent from their waste flows into surrounding water, and escape fish can disrupt or spread disease to natural fish populations. And some cultured fish, like salmon, can consume more fish food than they produce.
But indoor operations like the one proposed for Glen avoid these problems. Water is carefully monitored, treated and reused. The waste can be used as fertilizer on nearby produce farms. Fish cannot escape. And one of the most commonly grown indoor fish, tilapia, can be fed plants rather than other fish.
By supporting this project with $4 million in tax breaks and a $2.5 million grant, the state has a chance to get a $65 million plant that will create 175 direct jobs, spur a new industry in upstate, and provide locally grown food for its people. It should take advantage.