Science and Seafood Sea Grant Research Grows the U.S. Aquaculture Industry

Photo credit, left to right: Connecticut Sea Grant, Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, Woods Hole Sea Grant

Sea Grant Supports research to promote domestic, sustainable aquaculture

Sea Grant invests in the development of sustainable marine and Great Lakes aquaculture businesses to help coastal communities maintain a safe and sustainable local seafood supply that complements, not replaces, wild-caught fisheries. Since Sea Grant's founding over 50 years ago, we've made substantial investments in aquaculture research, development, and outreach that have resulted in new industry sectors, innovative technologies, and increased production.

Sea Grant's principles for investing in aquaculture include:

  1. Cause no harm to the environment or the seafood industry.
  2. Focus on the small business community.
  3. Invest in priorities that target critical issues and needs as identified throughout the coastal United States, but allow maximum flexibility to address regional, state and local issues and needs relevant to the aquaculture industry.
  4. Support projects and activities that are multidimensional in scope and focus, address issues and opportunities holistically, apply an integrated mix of research, education, extension and/or communications approaches, and when applicable, directly involve stakeholders and the industry.
  5. Invest in geographically and topically diverse integrated aquaculture research and outreach efforts.

Sea Grant's 10-Year Aquaculture Vision

(Photo credit: Connecticut Sea Grant)

Here are just a few of the ways Sea Grant-funded research has promoted safe and sustainable domestic aquaculture.

Research Develops Sustainable Aquaculture in California

Growing demand for seafood and a major seafood trade deficit in the U.S.—which reached $14 billion in 2016—has led to increased interest in domestic aquaculture, which lags behind other countries. In California, interest is growing in offshore, or open-water aquaculture projects, but one challenge to these is finding appropriate locations that do not impact other ocean uses such as fisheries or important ecosystems.

California Sea Grant-funded researchers developed a model that can identify the best locations for new offshore aquaculture facilities, minimizing trade-offs and potential environmental concerns, while maximizing profitability for businesses. Industry groups such as the Ventura Shellfish Enterprise are now using this research to inform their planning and support their permitting processes.

(Photo credit: NOAA National Ocean Service)

Helping Oyster Aquaculture with Evaluation of Nursery Culture Methods

Just like traditional farming, growing oysters starts with a seed. Procuring oyster seed (also called "spat") is a necessary first step and often represents over 16% of total oyster culture expenditures. With demand for oyster seed increasing, especially at larger sizes, improving nursery handling of oyster seed at smaller sizes can alleviate some of this bottleneck.

Woods Hole Sea Grant demonstrated that production of small seed is a viable alternative for nursery culture of oysters capable of producing consistent results at lower costs and has the potential to help alleviate some of the oyster seed bottleneck.

(Photo credit: WHOI Sea Grant)

Partnership Puts Oyster Seed in the Hands of Growers

Amid concerns over disease transfer in 2014, the state of South Carolina introduced a moratorium on importing oyster seed, meaning that growers had to seek out new seed sources and develop the capacity to produce seed within the state if the industry was to continue to develop. South Carolina Sea Grant, with an objective to build a sustainable industry that is adaptable to environmental and regulatory changes, offered technical assistance to support the development of a reliable, in-state source of oyster seed.

In 2017, because of Sea Grant efforts, seed orders for all South Carolina oyster farmers were filled with triploid seed produced in-state. Seed was distributed throughout the South Atlantic as part of a USDA South Regional Aquaculture Center-funded research project. Over 3 million seed were sold, which represents a conservative average market value to the growers of $1.8 million and $6 million in restaurant retail value. Growers have reported excellent performance from these oysters of local parentage, with fast growers reaching harvest size in 10 months.

(Photo credit: South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium)

Aquaculture in America's Heartland

Salmon is a popular fish with American consumers, and demand for the fish - and the price it commands - is on the rise. Raising salmon in land-based, water-reuse systems offers better management of effluent, improved water stewardship, and increased biosecurity. Over the last 10 years, there has been an exponential rise in facilities that feature land-based, water-reuse systems.

Wisconsin Sea Grant supports land-based aquaculture research, outreach, and education in collaboration with the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point Northern Aquaculture Demonstration Facility, and advances sustainable aquaculture through research and demonstration projects, technical assistance to farmers, workforce development, and public education. Sea Grant-supported research, education, and workforce development helped open the world's largest aquaponics operation, Superior Fresh, LLC, in the town of Northfield, WI. The company raises Atlantic salmon in an indoor recirculating system that uses nutrient-rich water from the fish system to also grow leafy vegetables.

(Photo: Superior Fresh aquaculture manager Kyle Woolever holds an Atlantic salmon; credit: Sara Stathas)

Improvement of Yellow Perch Broodstocks Increases Ohio Aquaculture Profits

Yellow perch aquaculture has become a growing industry in Ohio due to high market prices and decline in wild populations. Perch, however, are small and grow slowly, restraining growth of this new Midwest industry, particularly in mixed-sex stocks because males grow much more slowly and not as large as females.

With funding from Ohio Sea Grant, researchers developed broodstocks of perch that are almost exclusively female and grow 26.3% faster than a mixed-sex group on the same feed. Use of these fast-growing brookstocks will increase profit margins and can make yellow perch farming a more achievable industry for Ohio.

(Photo credit: Katie O'Reilly, National Sea Grant Office)

developing New Technologies

Sea Grant emphasizes the importance of building a safe and sustainable domestic seafood supply. New Hampshire Sea Grant funding allowed researchers to design, build, and test an open ocean integrated multi-trophic aquaculture (IMTA) platform to grow steelhead trout, blue mussels and sugar kelp. When these species are in close proximity, the mussels and kelp extract nutrients from the fish, providing ecosystem benefits, in addition to seafood production. This type of small-scale, environmentally-friendly approach is well-suited to fishing communities and seafood business operators in New England.

In 2017, New Hampshire Sea Grant partnered with Row 34, a local restaurant in Portsmouth, NH, to grow-out the steelhead trout. They participated in both daily operations and harvesting of trout for both their restaurant and other markets. Several trout dinners were featured at the Row 34 restaurants in both Portsmouth and Boston, educating the public on the benefits of locally-produced seafood.

More than 250 visitors toured the IMTA site in 2017, including chefs, fishermen, researchers, entrepreneurs, students, and regulators. With the positive results and growing demand for steelhead trout, New Hampshire Sea Grant submitted a proposal to advance the IMTA farming system to a larger, more economically viable scale that would produce 40 tons of seafood each year.

(Photo: New Hampshire Sea Grant)

Research Eases Restrictions on Interstate Shellfish Transfers

The threat of diseases like Dermo (Perkinsus marinus) and MSX (Halosporidium nelsoni) that can harm shellfish like oysters and clams can cause regulators to restrict interstate transfers of shellfish seed. Due to the potential risk of disease, zero-tolerance policies have been implemented in many coastal states with the resulting restriction in commerce bringing economic costs that can be challenging for small businesses to bear, and limiting the development of an industry that has the potential to significantly revitalize coastal communities.

Virginia Sea Grant-supported researcher Ryan Carnegie and his team challenged the existing paradigm to create a new model to promote the freer flow of shellfish seed which is more conducive to the industry and also likely to improve state biosecurity. Carnegie and his team worked with the larger East Coast commercial and regulatory communities through a series of workshops and public forums.

The results indicate that low levels of infection typical of a very small product should not prevent a transfer of seed among East Coast states. The researchers promoted a freer flow of shellfish seed throughout the region by encouraging states to move away from zero-tolerance policies with regard to parasitic infection in shellfish proposed for interstate transfer. This research has made decision-making more straightforward for regulators, and the industry is better able to take advantage of opportunities to sell product.

(Photo credit: Katie O'Reilly, National Sea Grant Office)

Research quantifies value of ecosystem services of off-bottom oyster farms in the Gulf of Mexico

Documenting the economic value of ecosystem services provided by off-bottom oyster farming gives us a better understanding of the public benefits of leasing public grounds and waters for private use, increasing public acceptance, and allowing regulatory agencies to consider reduction of permit fees to a rate that encourages applications and oyster farm start-ups.

Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant-funded researchers conducted an exhaustive search of the scientific literature to quantify ecosystem services provided by oyster farming or generate reasonable estimates of ecosystem services from oyster reefs. With these data, Sea Grant-funded researchers performed an economic analysis on oyster farms in Alabama and Louisiana to estimate the economic value of the ecosystem services provided by off-bottom oyster farming in these areas.

This research found that the 18 acres of oyster farms in Alabama collectively provide almost $30,000 in ecosystem services beyond the value of commercial sales. This research is influencing how permitting decisions are made, and oyster growers are using it as a marketing tool.

(Photo: Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium)

October is National Seafood Month.

Sea Grant's support of aquaculture research continues: Read more about the 2018 funded projects.

Follow the conversation on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook using #SeaGrantSeafood and #SeafoodMonth.

Learn more about Sea Grant's work to support sustainable seafood and aquaculture at seagrant.noaa.gov/Our-Work/SFA.

Find a U.S. caught or raised seafood recipe for dinner tonight at www.pinterest.com/seagrant/.

(Cover photo credit: Scott Ripley/University of New Hampshire)

Created By
Katherine O'Reilly

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