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August 14, 2019

 

US university, USDA partner to address challenge of producing high quality fish products

 

 

Scientists from Florida Atlantic University's (FAU) Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, one of the university's four research pillars, will partner with future US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists to address the challenge of adequately producing high quality fish products to meet demand.

 

This year, FAU's Harbor Branch has received US$2.4 million from the USDA to help initiate a project that will boost the US aquaculture industry. As the largest importer of seafood products, expanding domestic production will reduce the country's reliance on imports and reduce the seafood trade deficit, according to FAU.


The Harbor Branch faculty is uniquely skilled in warm water finfish research and development, and has led the way in advancing aquaculture in Florida, the US, as well as globally for more than 40 years. The USDA-ARS is behind the National Program for Aquaculture, whose mission is to conduct research and deliver technologies that improve domestic aquaculture production efficiency and product quality while minimising impacts on natural resources.


The Harbor Branch will host three new USDA scientists on their campus who have expertise in genetics, fish nutrition and health to develop novel technologies that will ensure a steady supply of warm water marine fish seed stocks optimised for commercial production. 


"Expanding domestic aquaculture production through science-based use of our natural resources will provide healthy protein sources to help meet the seafood demands of a growing global population while enhancing rural economies," said Caird Rexroad, ARS national programme leader for aquaculture. 


The key objective of the project is to develop year-round spawning strategies for captive broodstock and larviculture methods for seed production of marine finfish. In addition, the scientists will develop methods for genetic improvement of warm water marine finfish for optimum production efficiency. This approach will help to increase profitability and ensure environmental sustainability by producing less waste, reducing risk of diseases, and using feed more efficiently.


One of the primary obstacles in expanding aquaculture in the US is the availability of juveniles needed to supply grow-out operations. Small farms and small producers have difficulty maintaining broodstock, larviculture and juvenile production as they require facilities and resources that can provide a substantial production output in order to be economical. Moreover, they need highly skilled, technically savvy personnel, which requires higher salaries. All of these challenges pose both economic and technical burdens on aquaculture producers.


"Aquaculture producers need access to seedstocks for breeding purposes that are available year-round and optimised for the production environment," said Paul Wills, project director and associate director for research at FAU's Harbor Branch.


"We need to develop seedstocks that are bred for maximum production efficiency and have minimal impacts on the environment and native populations. Our research in genetics, fish health, nutrition, reproductive biology, and physiology will contribute to developing these seedstocks that meet these criteria."


Focused on improving market competitiveness for domestic aquaculture producers, the Harbor Branch project will initially focus on Florida Pompano (Trachinotus carolinus) and Red Drum (Sciaenops ocellatus) as model species for improvement. Wills, his FAU colleagues and USDA-ARS collaborators will conduct research related to reproduction, nutrition and fish health to improve reliability and efficiency of seed stock production.


The team will develop selective breeding methods for genetic improvement of warm water marine finfish for optimum production efficiency in a variety of warm water marine aquaculture systems. Broodstock and breeding programs will be a key strategy for increasing sustainable food production.


"With declining fisheries and the need to feed close to 10 billion people by 2050, it is projected that global aquaculture production will need to more than double in the next 40 years," said James Sullivan, executive director of FAU's Harbor Branch. "We are excited about the support we have received from the USDA to enable us to continue our research in aquaculture - the fastest growing sector of agriculture. This important industry is providing solutions for food needs and preserving the world's fisheries."


As such, the strategic research goals of the Harbor Branch's - are focused on increasing the supply of nutritious, safe and high-quality domestic seafood, improving production efficiency, increasing seed stock availability, developing novel feeds, improving aquatic animal health, creating a skilled workforce, reducing trade deficit, and enhancing technology transfer and commercialisation.


- Florida Atlantic University

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