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National Sea Grant Aquaculture Initiative: 2020 Update

Sea Grant’s diverse aquaculture portfolio is as strategic as it is long-lasting. For over 50 years, Sea Grant has been at the cutting edge of exploring safe, sustainable possibilities for the U.S. aquaculture industry. Sea Grant-funded research continues to advance understanding about the many biological, environmental, legal, and social aspects of aquaculture. Extension efforts bring together stakeholders for critical idea exchange and provide technical training on all aspects of aquaculture from techniques and safety protocols to business development and marketing approaches.


In 2020, Sea Grant continued to engage in hundreds of aquaculture-related projects and ongoing efforts, leveraging federal dollars well beyond the federal investment with partnerships and collaborative efforts. This year, several established projects selected in previous years received continued funding, and many new initiatives were launched. 


New Initiatives Supplement Critical Local Efforts

New initiatives in 2020 included:

  1. Supplementing aquaculture work at the state level – Sea Grant programs were invited to apply for funds to supplement ongoing aquaculture work. Eligible amounts were based on existing aquaculture investments and funds had to be used for new initiatives or expansion of existing efforts. A list of the additional aquaculture work supported by this initiative is available for download (list of new initiatives). 
  2. Rapid Response to COVID-19 Challenges – Sea Grant redirected a portion of its FY 2020 federal aquaculture funds to local-level projects aimed at supporting work to address short and long-term industry stakeholder needs resulting from the pandemic.  A summary of projects can be downloaded here, and a story describes Sea Grant’s overall response to the evolving pandemic.


Collaborative Aquaculture Hubs Advance Big Ideas

Ongoing support in 2020 included continued funding of  Advanced Aquaculture Collaborative Programs, commonly referred to as “Aquaculture Hubs,” established in 2019. The FY 2019 investments in aquaculture, and in particular the Collaborative Aquaculture Hub Programs, will inform more targeted investments in FY2021 and beyond. 


The Sea Grant-supported Aquaculture Hubs include the following initiatives:


National Aquaculture Liaison Fosters Strong Connections

Since 2018, Sea Grant has employed a national aquaculture liaison who coordinates various activities, connects aquaculture professionals in all sectors, and strengthens lines of communication between federal agencies, university researchers, and industry members working on aquaculture. In the last two years, the liaison has led an analysis of the contributions Sea Grant has made to aquaculture in 19 key areas, shared many periodic newsletters, established an advisory group, established strong approaches to communication and fostering exchange among professionals, and facilitated in-depth analyses and the development of informational stories describing Sea Grant’s 50 years of contributions in aquaculture. 


Highlights of Sea Grant-Supported Aquaculture

Investments in recent years are resulting in increased knowledge, understanding, and capacity that directly translates to more informed decision making, safer production practices, and more efficient management efforts. While many projects funded in recent years are still in progress, several are starting to reach milestones and realize goals. Nationally-funded projects are also heavily supplemented by locally-funded projects and sustained efforts in research and extension by individual Sea Grant programs and partners. 


Aquaculture Research: Scientists and growers partner to improve blue mussel production

Sea Grant-supported researchers at the Downeast Institute (DEI) in Beals, Maine, used laboratory and field trials to evaluate varying methods for collecting and culturing blue mussel seed and subsequent settlement of larvae. Researchers worked with commercial partners in 2019 to test these methods and build upon the previous year’s work by focusing on commercial grow-out of hatchery-seeded lines. The seed was transferred to grow-out rafts and market sized mussels were harvested in December 2019 with a yield of 9,600 pounds and a value of $19,200. The work in 2019 helped DEI address the industry-wide problem of total reliance on natural (wild) recruitment of blue mussels by creating an economically viable hatchery solution for seed production. This was part of the 2017 National Sea Grant Aquaculture Initiative.


Aquaculture Research: Scientists and tribal partners test methods for sablefish production

Sea Grant-funded researchers in Washington state successfully employed new innovations to produce 12,000 all-female fingerlings, working with a technician from the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe. The fish are predicted to reach commercial harvest size by 2021. The project will culminate in technology transfer to the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe to establish sustainable sablefish aquaculture benefiting the tribal community. This research is being conducted in partnership with the NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center and was funded as part of the 2017 National Sea Grant Aquaculture Initiative. This work was also cited in the recently published NOAA Technical Memorandum (NMFS-NWFSC-159), “Sablefish Aquaculture: An Assessment of Recent Developments and Their Potential for Enhancing Profitability” for revealing critical information about emerging markets for sablefish, closing the life cycle for sablefish in captivity, and developing crucial methods for reproduction and larval rearing.


Aquaculture Research: Scientists test delivery methods of nutrients to finfish

Sea Grant-supported researchers in Oregon used liposomes to deliver essential nutrients to cultured live prey of California halibut, an economically valuable fish species. California halibut showed a small but statistically significant increase in growth, in terms of larval dry weights, in response to increasing levels of vitamin C provided via liposome-enriched rotifers. Future efforts will attempt to establish an optimum concentration of vitamin C and will also investigate the interactions between vitamin C and taurine for California halibut. Marine finfish are difficult to culture partly because nutritional deficiencies cause poor growth and low survival early in their lives. Enriching fish feeds is difficult because many essential nutrients dissolve in water. This research was funded as part of the 2017 National Sea Grant Aquaculture Initiative.  


Aquaculture Extension: Research and training advance Florida’s clam industry

Sea Grant’s aquaculture research and extension and product diversification programs continue to help sustain Florida’s shellfish aquaculture industry. In 2019, research concentrated on evaluating depuration rates of red-tide in clams to better estimate closure windows. Research on genetic analyses to breed clams that can tolerate warmer water conditions also continued. A new seed production method was extended in a training program to 56 clams growers helping them to boost survival and meat volume. This project has received funding from the National Sea Grant Aquaculture Initiative in 2017 and 2018. 


Aquaculture Extension: Peer-to-peer learning enhances oyster aquaculture in the Southeast U.S.

The 2019 Oyster South symposium provided relevant information across a variety of topics to attending current and potential oyster farmers. In a post-symposium survey, respondents indicated that information obtained at the symposium led them to adopt new techniques, including marketing ideas, inventory management, and farm management. Attendees were asked to estimate the annual increase in profit or money saved. Six responses provided these estimates, with three providing usable dollar amounts ($25,000, $60,000 and $100,000). The other responses were “50% in production”, “60 cents per bag labor savings” and “priceless”. Sea Grant fellowships offered in partnership with Oyster South helped oyster farmers grow their business by providing opportunities to learn from their colleagues. The fellowships were funded by the 2017 National Sea Grant Aquaculture Initiative and provided travel assistance funding to southern shellfish farmers to visit existing aquaculture operations, hatcheries, workshops and trade shows to learn best practices from their peers. 


Currently, the National Sea Grant Office and NOAA Ocean Acidification Program are sponsoring a joint competition to fund proposals that seek to establish, continue, and/or expand collaborations between researchers and the shellfish aquaculture industry. More information about this funding opportunity is available here and at an informational webinar scheduled for November 9, 2020, at 2p ET.

Sea Grant’s aquaculture portfolio is guided by the 2016 Sea Grant Vision for Aquaculture, which was developed by Sea Grant professionals and partners across the country. Sea Grant’s aquaculture team includes a national aquaculture liaison, two national aquaculture specialists, over 100 university-based aquaculture professionals, and 100s of partnering researchers and industry members.

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