DISPARITIES IN AQUACULTURE
Aquaculture, the farming of aquatic organisms such as fish, shellfish, and seaweed, has become an increasingly important and profitable industry in recent years. It is expected to be a $2.1b market by the end of 2023. With over 50% of seafood now coming from aquaculture, demand for skilled professionals is higher than ever. However, there is a significant lack of diversity in the industry, with minorities vastly underrepresented.
If we look at the gender gap in oyster farming, here are the stats: 15.7% of oyster farmers are women, and 84.3% of oyster farmers are men. If you think that’s a huge disparity, get this: 1% are Black, 1.5% are Asian, and 7% are Hispanic or Latino. Maybe you found these statistics alarming, maybe you didn’t, but the fact remains that there is a disparity and we know someone who is working to address it – Imani Black, founder of Minorities In Aquaculture (MIA).
There is no shortage of articles or information about Imani’s work to bring diversity to oyster farming and aquaculture in general. However, if you’re not deep into aquaculture news, chances are you missed the scoop. If you are involved in aquaculture and haven’t heard of her, we’re going to take a wild guess and say that you live under a rock. . . or a shell.
Born and raised on Maryland shores, Imani discovered conservation and restoration on the Chesapeake Bay at a young age. She later studied Marine Biology at Old Dominion University. After graduating in 2016, she interned with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. She then participated in the Oyster Aquaculture Training program at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. This was her introduction to the shellfish aquaculture industry. Imani went on to work at oyster farms, and she soon recognized the lack of diversity in the field. In response, Imani founded MIA in 2020 with the mission of increasing representation and inclusion in the industry through advocacy, outreach, and education on the history of minorities in aquaculture. With a 200-year-long Chespaeke family history, it’s just as critical to Imani to share the history as it is to provide opportunities and resources.
As she told Aquaculture North America on a podcast, “At one point there were over 900 black watermen on the Chesapeake, and now there are only nine. . . .You can see that there is a piece of our heritage and our legacy actively fading away. . . .Minorities were the prominent people that were working in fisheries. . . . it wasn’t looked at as something glamorous that people wanted to do. . . . A lot of black people were pushed to the waterfront, and that’s why they got into fisheries. . . That’s how they supported their families. . . . It’s really not about bringing minorities into this new space of aquaculture, it’s really bringing us back home”.
Imani is currently a Graduate Research Assistant at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Horn Point Laboratory. In addition, she spearheads MIA. Imani hopes to return to aquaculture once she leaves academia.
MINORITIES IN AQUACULTURE
Today, MIA is made up of 120+ members and provides resources and support to minority students and professionals in or considering aquaculture. This includes networking opportunities, career development, mentorship, and internship programs through strategic partnerships.
While MIA’s mission is to support, educate, and empower women of color in or interested in aquaculture, Imani also wants people to know that anyone interested in aquaculture regardless of gender or race is invited to join MIA, attend events, and interact with the organization. Building strong communities begins with the support of everyone in it.
As we close Women’s History Month, we recognize Imani’s work as an inspiration for anyone looking to make a positive change in their industry. By advocating for diversity and inclusion, she is not only providing a space for underrepresented groups but also helping to create a stronger and more sustainable aquaculture industry for all. Imani’s work deserves a special place in history books.
If you work in aquaculture or love oysters, think about how you can provide opportunities and support diversity and inclusion in aquaculture. If you have no idea, start by following Minorities in Aquaculture and staying up to date on their programs, events, and upcoming initiatives.
FUN QUESTIONS WE ASKED IMANI
What is one thing about oysters that you can share that most people might not know?
One thing that I think is super cool about oyster aquaculture is that when oysters go to different parts of the country they take on a totally different flavor profile. Even more interesting is that oysters from two different sides of one coast can taste different.
What is your favorite way to enjoy oysters?
I only recently started to enjoy raw oysters, so I won’t say that is my favorite way to enjoy them. I will say, I cannot sit and eat a dozen oysters. Maybe 10 max. But one way I can remember enjoying oysters growing up is by eating oyster fritters, kind of like oyster pancakes that my grandmother made for years. It’s a recipe that’s been a part of my family for generations.
Outside of all of the amazing work you are doing, what other things are you looking forward to in MIA?
We are rolling out new merch soon. So, we’ll have more branded apparel and other items representing MIA.