Agriculture continues to be a token flagship of the Mississippi economy. However, a specific kind of farming continues to grow within the state that has cause for attention. This area of farming is aquaculture, the process of producing farm-raised fish in a water environment.

Over the last couple of years, Mississippi’s aquaculture has grown greatly. According to the most recent data from 2017, the Mississippi aquaculture industry hosts 205 catfish farms, valued at $219.7 million. Mississippi has risen to one of the top producers of aquacultural farming products, so much so that the rest of the country consumes much of what Mississippi produces, bringing in $230.7 million in sales.

This growth is very timely as global demand for seafood and aquacultural products is expected to grow by 70% over the next thirty years thus increasing demand and providing business and jobs. Not only that, but an increase in productivity in aquaculture means an increase in general agricultural business as well. According to a study by the Food and Water Watch, this additional economic benefit comes from the broader agricultural sector producing the food and materials necessary to sustain aquaculture enterprises.

The aquaculture industry is clearly a vital element of the rising Mississippi economy and the state should look to competitive growth as other states expand aquaculture as well. For instance, the New England states have taken advantage of this opportunity and are now generating $150 million annually. The state of Washington also benefits from this, generating $270 million annually.

Expanding this opportunity and taking advantage of this growth would be an excellent area for legislative attention in Mississippi. This is especially true considering that American aquaculture farms have barely scratched the surface of what total demand is necessary to exhaust the industry (America only meets 5 to 7 percent of the current demand for seafood).

Furthermore, when farmers see that one can succeed in aquaculture, new technologies like computer-controlled oxygen monitoring systems have emerged. This enables farmers to monitor and control the oxygen levels in farming ponds. People find something they want to pursue. They find solutions to making that pursuit easier through innovation. That innovation in turn, inspires others to participate. The cycle goes on and on.

This is another perfect opportunity for legislators to make positive changes in Mississippi communities. Fewer regulations and more motivations to participate in markets like these provide opportunities for innovation and growth in the economy. It is a faulty assumption to presume that government needs to compel or even incentivize individuals for growth to occur. The reality is that neither of those things are needed. For growth to occur, as it has in aquaculture, individuals should be able to pursue their interests without fear of undue government interference. If interference is apparent, growth may actually take a downturn. State leaders would do well to further recognize the growth of the aquaculture industry and encourage its free market expansion.