There’s a very good chance the last shrimp dinner you ate did not contain shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico or the last salmon you enjoyed did not come from a fast moving river in the northwestern United States. According to Dr. Hugh Hammer, Gadsden State Community College aquaculture instructor, most of the fish we consume today is raised on farms and does not come from the sea.
Hammer said during a recent presentation to a Gadsden civic club, “Approximately 90% of the shrimp consumed today is farm raised along with 70% of the salmon and 100% of the tilapia and catfish.” Hammer told the club about 45% of the seafood eaten around the world is farm raised. In spite of increased interest in aquaculture in the United States, last year the U.S. had a trade deficit in seafood of $7.9 billion.
In Alabama, aquaculture is a $115,000,000 business with about 25,000 acres of water. There are 256 farms in the state, most of them catfish farms employing about 2700. Some of the farms have water acreage as big as downtown Gadsden and each pond can produce tens of thousands of pounds of fish.
Hammer noted that the aquaculture program at Gadsden State is similar to the industry in the state except on a miniature scale. There are 13 outdoor ponds along with indoor facilities. A number of different kinds of fish are raised including freshwater shrimp, tilapia, crawfish, rainbow trout, fantail guppies (ornamental), hybrid striped bass, channel catfish, largemouth bass and koi (ornamental). Hammer compared himself to an extension agent, explaining that he works with those involved in aquaculture in the state to help solve problems with their ponds or fish. In addition to instructing classes at the College, he has played an instrumental role in Alabama’s having the largest group of K-12 instructors who teach aquaculture in the United States. Since Hammer arrived at Gadsden State in 2001, he has trained approximately 250 teachers throughout the United States with most of the teachers coming from Alabama.
“I am most proud of the internship program we have created at Gadsden State,” Hammer said. “Our students are able to get paid internship programs in many areas of the United States including Alaska and even the Dominican Republic.” Five students have benefited from an advanced internship at the Epcot Center at Disney World in Orlando. Some of the internships offer up to $500 a week plus housing and the experience is priceless.
Hammer explained that fish consumption warnings which exist along many of Alabama’s waterways are mostly for methyl mercury and PCB’s. “Don’t stop eating seafood especially salmon,” he told the club members, “because your nervous systems are all developed and eating the fish will not hurt you. In fact, the benefits from salmon consumption far outweigh any potential damage.” The people who need to strongly follow the consumption guidelines are those who are considering children in the future and those who are pregnant or nursing.
Anyone interested in talking with Hammer about his program or problems with their ponds or fish may contact him at (256) 549-8345 or firstname.lastname@example.org.