Monday, February 16, 2015

16/02/2015: Budget cuts could lead to Wisconsin, US, aquaculture facility closure

When you first enter the Northern Aquaculture Demonstration Facility (NADF) just off State Highway 13 on the Red Cliff Indian Reservation, the importance of what happens there isn’t immediately apparent, The Daily Press reports.

The large metal barn-like structure hums with high-volume pumps working, feeding cold water to any number of fibreglass tanks. It’s only when you peer into the net-covered tanks that you get inkling about what is going on.
In the tanks, huge Atlantic salmon cruise, brood stock for research work on developing a strain of the hugely popular food fish that can be farm-reared for an insatiable market. In other tanks, a battalion of moon-eyed walleye gather at the bottom of the tank, subjects of experiments to produce fish that can be profitably grown by Wisconsin fish farmers to supply all those Friday night fried fish.

That is at the heart of the work that has been done by the Facility since 2006 — finding ways to help the state’s emerging aquaculture industry to become profitable, producing a wholesome and nutritious product that is in high demand throughout the nation.

It is an effort that has met with a spectacular level of success. The centre is credited with helping to create more than 450 Wisconsin aquaculture jobs in the industry that boasts US$21 million in annual revenue.
The Centre’s expertise has been widely recognized in the industry; in the period 2006-2015 the Centre has attracted US$3.3 million in grants made by private industry, the federal government and others who recognize the groundbreaking work that is being done at the Facility.

The scope of the work being done by NADF touches on just about every aspect of developing aquaculture as a significant industry in Wisconsin: Developing sustainable Atlantic salmon rearing techniques, coming up with more cost-effective feeding techniques for growing bluegills for Black Iris Fish Farm in Black Creek and assisting Aquaterra of Bristol to develop production systems and Arctic char markets that serve Midwest consumers.
However, according to NADF Facility Manager Greg Fischer, the US$300 million in cuts to the University of Wisconsin means that annual funds of US$417,500 for the Facility provided through the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point could be zeroed out.

“That would mean that the facility would have to close in July,” Mr Fischer said.

In a letter sent to friends of the Facility and stakeholders, Mr Fischer said if that happened, it would be the end of the Facility.

“Everyone employed by the UWSP-NADF will be laid off and all collaborative projects with our valued partners, even if in progress, will be terminated,” Mr Fischer said in the letter.

Mr Fischer said the elimination of the funding is difficult to understand, because none of the funds originate with taxpayer dollars.

“Our funding comes from tribal gaming revenues, not taxpayer dollars,” Mr Fischer said.

“It is important for people to understand that this is not taxpayer money.”

The gaming money, which flows through the state to UW-Stevens Point and ultimately to NADF, is just the beginning of the funds used by the facility.

“That is our base operating funding” Mr Fischer said. “We take that money and then we leverage it with grants and private money.”

Fischer emphasized the direct connection the Facility has with private industry, which partners with NADF on a variety of projects that are of direct benefit to Wisconsin businesses. He noted that it has been a long and painstaking effort to create NADF as an entity that nurtures the growth of an emerging industry, and one that has already shown great promise and a number of notable successes.

“All that will be gone if we have to shut down,” Mr Fischer said.

“I have already heard from people we have been working with who say they will not make the investment if we are shut down.” Fischer said the demise of NADF would send an entirely negative message to the aquaculture community.

“This is telling them that aquaculture is not wanted in this state,” he said. “It is a death sentence for aquaculture.”

One of the companies that has directly benefitted from NADF technology transfer is Miracle Springs, Inc, which is seeking ways to raise Atlantic salmon in a closed, sustainable system that does not cause water pollution or create the potential for he spread of fish disease.

Atlantic salmon is a highly sought-after fish, but so expensive that it is almost unattainable for most consumers. Another is Aquaterra, which came to NADF with a proposal to develop methods of producing Arctic char as a profitable high-end product.

“We have been partnering with Aquaterra for about five years and they have taken the technology from us and they are now farming them at their facility and they are hiring Stevens Point graduates to run it,” Fischer said.

“A lot of those graduates are kids who have spent time here, as interns.”

That process will come to an abrupt end if the Governor’s proposed cuts are allowed to stand.

““The Northern Aquaculture Demonstration Facility will shut down and close its doors on July 1, 2015,” Fischer said.

“We are all out of jobs.” Fischer said that NADF was one of many programs that were zeroed out in the budget.

“Of course for us it means the end of the line,” he said.
Mr Fisher said he doubted that there was any animosity against the program itself.

“I think if the Governor knew the work that we did here and knew us personally,” he said.

“I don‘t think we’d be on that docket. I think probably a bean counter somewhere has crossed out these things. If you look at the track record of this place for the money coming into this place, this is a good deal for the state to have.”

Fischer pointed out that for the US$400,000 investment, the Demonstration Facility doubled the money through grants, pulling in private outside money from concerns who could see the value to their businesses in what the Facility did to turn aquaculture concepts into production-scaled techniques that were immediately adaptable to commercial operations.

“We are building industry,” he said.

“We are training people, giving them jobs. If you look at what they get for that US$417,000, there is not a program in the state that can compare to that. We are the only one in the Midwest that does what we do.”

Mr Fischer said since the news broke about the proposed elimination of funding, he has been deluged by callers who support the Facility.

“They are asking what they need to do,” he said.

Fischer said that was easy to answer. He said that supporters needed to contact their legislators and UW-System leaders to let them know how the Facility helps the 2300 fish farms that make up the US$21 million aquaculture industry in the state.

“Unless voices are heard, NADF will close,” he said.

Read the article HERE.

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