The African longfin eel could be coming to Michigan. A Florida-based firm plans to establish an aquaculture project to commercially raise the African longfin eel in St. Johns, Michigan. But this project could lead to the release of dangerous pathogens or diseases into the Great Lakes.
Aqua Vida Aquaculture aims to operate the first African longfin eel farm in Michigan. The African longfin eel is a popular food dish in Japan and other Asian countries. The commercial fishery industry is growing rapidly at a time when the U.S. imports more seafood than ever before and global food production may lag behind population growth.
Proponents of aquaculture in Michigan say that aquaculture can be more cost effective than other types of farming. Aqua Vida claims that eel farming uses less water and resources than other protein sources, like traditional land animal farming. The Michigan Aquaculture Association says that the Michigan aquaculture industry could support as many as 1500 jobs within a decade.
But these claims ignore some of the grave potential downsides to aquaculture. What happens when the "product" leaves the farm? Invasive species are a great threat to the environmental health of the Great Lakes. According to a study from the journal Management of Biological Invasions, aquaculture farms may lead to the introduction of invasive species, and the African longfin eel could carry "alien parasites and diseases" harmful to the Great Lakes.
Aquaculture brings the benefits of new food sources with the risks of invasive species that could upset an important ecological balance.