Ocean aquaculture: Technology, business practices, policies & caviar

July 22, 2002

Sea Grant Research News:

Sea Grant Leading National Ocean Aquaculture Research Program
Economic Study Reveals Risks of Ocean Aquaculture Business Operations
Farming Better Caviar: Aquaculture Goal, A Gourmet's Delight
Author Calls for Radical Reform of Aquaculture Practices

Sea Grant people in news:
Thoroughgood, O'Neill, Clark in National Spotlight

Sea Grant leading national ocean aquaculture research program
New technology is being tested this summer in the Gulf of Mexico that will hopefully lead to the creation of a sustainable, environmentally friendly open ocean aquaculture industry. A team of researchers, government agencies and private companies - from nine states - make up the regional Gulf of Mexico Offshore Aquaculture Consortium (OAC) which is engaged in a multi-year research endeavor to test the waters of the Gulf for such an industry. The Gulf of Mexico project is part of a series of scientific research projects funded and coordinated by NOAA's National Sea Grant College Program 13 states and territories. In August the Gulf OAC, headquartered at the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, will stock an aquaculture research cage with cobia that will reach market size in a year. It will be a unique home as their cage, located 25 miles off the coast of Pascagoula, Mississippi, tests the use of a single-point mooring system developed by researchers at MIT - the only one in the world used by an aquaculture operation.

The cage's single-point mooring, or SPM, has many advantages over the traditional "multi-line grid system" in the open ocean environment. It allows some movement, and reduces stress on the system, a helpful aspect in the rough waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The SPM also requires less space than the multi-line grid, an important factor in the busy Gulf region and for future leasing systems for offshore space. In addition, the single-point system should decrease environmental impacts from fish feed and waste because it spreads the discharge out over the entire moving cage area, as opposed to grid systems that are positioned over a single location. Extensive nutrient monitoring programs, coupled with analysis of the benthic, neritic and pelagic community, are part of the National Sea Grant Program cage culture feasibility study that will help determine the balance of nutrient within the carrying capacity of coastal systems.

Another feature of the Gulf aquaculture cage is a newly installed remote camera, or "Cage Cam," operating 24/7 from an adjacent Chevron gas platform. The camera allows for constant monitoring of the cage, the sea and weather conditions. Other automated innovations, such as a satellite tracking system that notifies researchers if the cage moves outside its watch circle, and an automatic feeding system known as "Robo Feeder," developed by MIT, enable researchers to monitor one of the furthest offshore aquaculture cages in the world.

Cage aquaculture research projects in Hawaii and New Hampshire also are funded operate through NOAA's National Sea Grant College Program. In Hawaii, a giant sea cage, several times larger than the one in the Gulf, has already been approved for commercial use. The original project stocked 70,000 Pacific threadfin, or moi, a native, increasingly uncommon fish once reserved solely for royalty, and the commercial growers anticipate crops of 100,000 fish per cage. As the first fully permitted open ocean aquaculture site in the U.S., it represents the start of an industry with an earning potential of over $400 million per year. The Hawaii cage project recently was featured at NOAA's annual "Fish Fry" dinner in Washington D.C. where moi and amber jack raised in the cages were served. New Hampshire's aquaculture cages stock haddock, cod, and halibut, and also uses the MIT-designed "Robo Feeder" system. Other NOAA supported projects will also soon be underway in waters off Puerto Rico and Washington State.

To view the Cage Cam in Mississippi, visit http://www-org.usm.edu/~ooa/index.htm

CONTACTS: Jim McVey, NOAA National Sea Grant College Program Aquaculture Program Director, (O) 301-713-2431, Email: jim.mcvey@noaa.gov; Chris Bridger, Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Gulf of Mexico Offshore Aquaculture Consortium Project Coordinator, (O) 228-818-8802, Email: chris.bridger@usm.edu

Economic study reveals risks of ocean aquaculture business operations
Aquaculture is a business, and good business requires a plan. In order to develop a plan for open ocean aquaculture operations, WHOI policy analysts developed an economic model to explore the feasibility of such operations. Project investigators Porter Hoagland, Hauke Kite-Powell and Di Jin examined whether the benefits of producing various seafood products in offshore aquaculture are great enough to outweigh the risks. By combining financial business planning with risk assessment techniques, the economists could better understand the viability of prospective open ocean aquaculture projects in New England.

Preliminary results showed that blue mussels would become profitable at a market price of $.80 per pound, with one boat operating for one full year at full capacity and at least 300 long lines. Sea scallops, if grown by seabed seeding, could be "marginally profitable at loss rates as high as 50 percent (based on 100,000 pound yield) with a $4 per pound market price," says Kite-Powell. He notes that cage-cultured scallops would have a lower risk of loss, but have higher operating costs that outweigh the lower cage mortality.

To produce these results, researchers first developed bioeconomic feasibility models of grow-out operations for blue mussels, sea scallops, summer flounder, cod and haddock. By considering two major angles of open ocean aquaculture setups - operations and markets - the researchers could factor everything that could go wrong, the likelihood that it would, and quantify them to determine profits or losses. Operational considerations included transportation costs to and from the site, as well as biological uncertainties and interactions with fishing boats and gear, while market considerations dealt with supply and demand. Final results of the study will help determine the level at which various offshore aquaculture methods and facilities become profitable. "The trick," said Hoagland "is getting a handle on the risks involved." CONTACT: Porter Hoagland, Research Specialist, Marine Policy Center, WHOI, (O) 508-289-2867, Email: phoagland@whoi.edu Hauke Kite-Powell, Research Specialist, Marine Policy Center, WHOI, (O) 508-289-2938, Email: hauke@whoi.edu Di Jin, Associate Scientist, Marine Policy Center, WHOI, (O) 508-289-2874, Email: djin@whoi.edu

Farming better caviar: Aquaculture goal, a gourmet's delight
With the collapse of sturgeon populations in the Caspian Sea region, farmed caviar has emerged as an environmentally friendly - and tasty - alternative to wild-caught caviar. Even gourmets have been won over. As the farmed-caviar industry continues to expand, there is a growing interest in selectively breeding sturgeon for enhanced caviar quality and yield. In a series of experiments funded by California Sea Grant, former graduate student Jeff Rodzen and geneticist Bernie May have begun to establish the scientific foundation for developing such breeding strategies. Rodzen and May, at University of California at Davis, have mapped the pedigree structure of a sturgeon broodstock at the state's largest white sturgeon farm. Their work has shown that sturgeon body size is strongly tied to genetics; caviar weight is influenced by environment; and caviar yield is somewhat associated with the size of the donor female. Their results are being further tested at the sturgeon farm, as scientists seek to unlock the genetics behind caviar color, grade, firmness and weight- the most prized caviar traits.

CONTACT: Bernie May, California Sea Grant Researcher, University of California at Davis Department of Animal Science, (O) 530-754-8123, Email: bpmay@ucdavis.edu

Author calls for radical reform of aquaculture practices
The aquaculture industry in the United States and around the world will never grow to its full potential unless it radically reforms its practices, and produces positive impacts on the environment and society, says Barry Costa-Pierce in his new book "Ecological Aquaculture." Costa-Pierce, director of the Rhode Island Sea Grant Program, believes that the ecological and social impacts caused by aquaculture must be addressed in order for the industry's reputation to improve and to gain support of its many detractors. His recommendations for improving the aquaculture industry include the following:To succeed, says Costa-Pierce, "Aquaculture developers will need to spend as much time on the technological advances coming to the field as they do in designing ecological approaches to aquaculture development that clearly exhibit stewardship of the environment." "Ecological Aquaculture: Evolution of the Blue Revolution" will be available at the end of July from Rhode Island Sea Grant for $110 plus shipping. See http://seagrant.gso.uri.edu/news/index.html#Ecological for ordering information.

CONTACT: Barry Costa-Pierce, Director, Rhode Island Sea Grant Program, (O) 401-874-6802, Email: bcp@gso.uri.edu

Sea Grant people in the news:
Thoroughgood, O'Neill, Clark in National Spotlight

Delaware Sea Grant Director Carolyn Thoroughgood has been named to the Science Advisory Panel of the new presidentially appointed U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy. The Panel, mandated by the Oceans Act of 2000, will provide expert scientific counsel and assistance to the Commission in its development of recommendations for a comprehensive national ocean policy. She also is currently serving as Acting President of the Consortium for Oceanographic Research and Education.

New York Sea Grant Coastal Resources Specialist Chuck O'Neill, Jr. has been appointed to a select committee that advises the National Invasive Species Council (NISC). The Invasive Species Advisory Committee (ISAC) makes recommendations to NISC regarding invasive species and diseases, such as zebra mussels, the Asian longhorn beetle, purple loosestrife, and evergreen rust, causing environmental, agricultural, and economic damage.

Virginia Sea Grant Educator Vicki Clark is serving as President of the National Marine Educators Association and chairing the organization's annual meeting this week in New London, CT. About 400 marine education specialists from around the nation, including 30 Sea Grant representatives, are attending the weeklong conference.
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Sea Grant is a nationwide network of 30 university-based programs that works with coastal communities and is supported by NOAA. Sea Grant research and outreach programs promote better understanding, conservation, and use of America's coastal resources. For more information about Sea Grant visit the Sea Grant Media Center Website at: www.seagrantnews.org, which includes on-line keyword searchable database of academic experts in over 30 topical areas.

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