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Local researchers are working to boost an industry that helps put more food on your plate so that more of your food comes from the United States.
FAU Harbor Branch works to resolve world's fish sustainability problem
FAU’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute has received $2.4 million from the USDA to work with the USDA scientists to support the growth of aquaculture in the U.S.
The U.S is the largest importer of seafood products in the world, resulting in about a $14 billion trade deficit. More than 50 percent of seafood consumed comes from agriculture, yet less than 1percent of that is produced in the U.S. according to Harbor Branch researchers.
The warm water finfish aquaculture industry has struggled to grow in the U.S.
Dr. Paul Wills, Research Professor at Harbor Branch, is one of the researchers who is now working to try to change that.
“Currently, the United States imports more than 90 percent of the seafood we consume,” Wills said. “That number should be much lower. We have a huge coastline in the United States and saltwater access.”
The research will focus on developing a foundation for the most efficient ways to produce Pompano and Red Drum, and develop “novel technologies” that will ensure a steady supply of warm water marine fish seed stocks used for commercial production.
Harbor Branch says they will be focusing on spawning strategies and developing methods for genetic improvement. The research aims to help producers be profitable, ensure environmental sustainability, and create a healthy product.
Many economic and technical burdens have made it hard for aquaculture producers to succeed, according to researchers.
“Aquaculture producers need access to seed stocks for breeding purposes that are available year-round and optimized for the production environment,” said Wills. “We need to develop seed stocks 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 seed stocks that meet these criteria.”
Experts project there will be a need to feed 10 billion people by 2015. Fish-farming is an area researchers feel will support the growing need for food.
“The world needs other new sustainable sources of protein, high-quality low-fat protein,” Wills said.
“There is a huge supply and demand issue,” said Joe Cardenas, founder of Aquaco Farms in Fort Pierce. It is an aquaculture facility working to provide a sustainable food source and grow with the aquaculture industry.
“By the time February comes in, we will have our first harvest and we will have over 400,000 fish,” Cardenas explained. Aquaculture also helps prevent over-harvesting in the ocean. Cardenas explained with 50 to 75 fish from the wild, he can produce enough fish to last 5 to 10 years.
Research underway at Harbor Branch can help more people break into the industry, and help Cardenas continue to grow his business in the most effective ways for years to come.
“It’s exciting. It means we will run, we will have time to expand, we will have more tanks, so when all that research is done, now you have a market to introduce it to.”