The late Dan Swecker. One of Swecker’s most effective lobbying efforts was the orchestration of a salmon barbecue where, armed with high-quality farmed salmon from WFGA members, “Dan would put on his chef’s apron and cook salmon the way it should be cooked", said former colleague Jim Zimmerman. Photo: NWAA.

US aquaculture pays tribute to fish farming pioneer Dan

Tributes have been paid in the United States to a fish farming pioneer who died earlier this month.

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Dan Swecker was a decorated Vietnam war helicopter pilot, fish farmer and executive director of the Washington Fish Growers Association (WFGA), an organisation he helped launch to promote fish farming in the state.

“Dan once joked that fish farming took more courage than it took to earn the Bronze Star and Purple Heart,” said industry consultant and former president of Stolt Sea Farm Washington, John Forster.

Ethical and kind

“Against all odds, Dan and his wife, Debby, started their own intensive salmon farming operation in Rochester (Washington state), which was a very impressive operation, given the level of development in the aquaculture industry at that time.

“Everyone who worked with and learned from Dan Swecker knew him to be a man of his word - highly ethical and absolutely generous and kind.”

Swecker spent 20 years in the Washington State Senate and was vice-chair of the Agriculture and Environment Committee and served on the Natural Resources & Parks and Ways & Means Committees.

After retiring from the WFGA in January 2019, he became a senior advisor to the Northwest Aquaculture Alliance (NWAA), where he was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award in December 2019 for his tireless advocacy of the aquaculture industry.

The voice for science

In addition to testifying on many contentious issues, Swecker authored numerous opinion pieces about the need for the voice of science in the debate about aquaculture.

“Dan Swecker viewed aquaculture as both a job creator and as a way to produce local seafood that people could afford, and tirelessly fought to streamline the permitting process,” said former WFGA lobbyist, Jim Zimmerman.

“In his 26-year tenure at WFGA, Dan advocated for streamlined permitting for both freshwater and marine aquaculture, as well as a more rational approach to governance.”

Never discouraged

Former Washington Farmed Salmon Commission executive director, Pete Granger, said Swecker “was imperturbable in the face of critical issues and unfair criticism of the industry”.

According to Granger, Swecker “never got discouraged during these contentious times. He was such a steady influence on all the salmon farmers”.

Kevin Bright, an NWAA director who served for many years on the WFGA board, recalled Swecker as being “a diplomat who could bridge gaps and reach across the aisle”.

‘Foster father of our industry’

Bright, currently the permit coordinator for Cooke Aquaculture Pacific, said he was fortunate to have worked in the past with both Swecker and Zimmerman on initiatives that included streamlining the permitting process for fish farming to changing cumbersome and outdated regulations.

“We always referred to Dan Swecker as the ‘foster father for our industry’ because of his tireless efforts in the state legislature to help this fledgling industry grow and succeed,” Bright said.

A memorial service will take place tomorrow (September 17), at 2pm local time at the Centralia (Washington) Community Church of God, 3320 Borst Avenue, Centralia. An outdoor reception will follow.