Advancing saltwater fish farming


Encouraged by government regulatory progress, saltwater fish farmers meeting to identify most promising technologies and commercial opportunities

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FORT PIERCE -- Estimates suggest that by 2020, population growth and other factors will lead to an increased seafood demand of up to 30 million tons. With current wild catches leveling or declining, the bulk of this demand will clearly have to be met by aquaculture, and some of the greatest potential for aquaculture expansion is in raising marine fish for food. On Oct. 20 and 21, industry, research, and government experts in this field from around the country and overseas will converge at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution for the 2nd International Sustainable Marine Fish Culture Conference ( to discuss new advances in both offshore and onshore aquaculture of saltwater fish. They will work to identify the most promising current commercial opportunities, including the potential for use of large cages to raise fish off Florida's coasts, and explore the implications of a recent historic and unprecedented endorsement of aquaculture by the Bush administration.

"Major strides have now been made in overcoming technological and regulatory hurdles to advancing marine fish aquaculture since our last conference in 2003," says Ken Riley, Harbor Branch aquaculture education director and conference organizer, "This year, we're excited about bringing everyone together again to specifically identify the most promising opportunities for commercialization."

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At a press conference on Friday, Oct. 21 at 12:30 p.m., speakers will explain the latest technological and political developments, and the most critical issues for those working to expand marine fish farming at commercial scales.

Following the press conference, samples will be available of hybrid striped bass raised in freshwater then transferred to saltwater prior to harvest to enhance flavor. The fish were used as part of a successful Harbor Branch-USDA study examining if poultry by products can be used to replace fishmeal--a limited resource--in standard feeds. Samples of Cobia raised in offshore cages in Puerto Rico will also be available. Reporters will also be able to tour the Harbor Branch-USDA collaboration's extensive new research facility at the Harbor Branch Aquaculture Park. These new facilities were built to increase research capabilities, and incorporate lessons learned from greenhouses destroyed during the hurricanes. They are already stocked with thousands of pompano, striped bass, flounder, black sea bass, and other species under investigation for their potential commercial viability. Projects underway include development of methods to raise saltwater fish in near freshwater to decrease operational costs and allow more use of inland agricultural areas, research on alternatives to fish meal in feeds, and engineering studies aimed at developing cost-effective and energy-conservative systems for growing fish onshore.

Press Conference Speakers:

Ken Riley, Harbor Branch director of aquaculture education, will give a brief overview of marine fish farming and outline the roles that this year's conference, and its predecessor held in 2003, have played and are playing in advancing the field. He will also describe Harbor Branch-USDA collaborative projects underway. These include work to raise Florida pompano, a prized and highly valuable species, in captivity. He will describe research using light and temperature manipulation, among other techniques, to trigger spawning and the successful production in tanks of millions of fertilized eggs and thousands of healthy young fish on their way to market weight. This project involves acclimating pompano, a saltwater species, to thrive in freshwater, which is easier and cheaper to maintain at an industrial scale.

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Michael Rubino is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Aquaculture Program manager and has been a leader in the push to increase aquaculture's economic viability. This led last year to unprecedented and specific direction by President Bush in his administration's U.S. Ocean Action Plan (December 2004) calling for a new regulatory structure for aquaculture. Dr. Rubino will discuss the resulting legislation, the National Offshore Aquaculture Act now pending in Congress, and how it will promote offshore fish farming and enable U.S. fish farmers to compete with foreign competitors to reduce our country's $8 billion seafood trade deficit.

Daniel Benetti is Chairman of Marine Affairs and Policies, and Director of Aquaculture at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. He will discuss research on raising species such as cobia in massive offshore cages in the Bahamas, Puerto Rico and elsewhere. He and his colleagues have documented astonishing growth rates for cobia at these facilities even with low consumption of fishmeal relative to the amount of fish the cobia would consume in the wild, a critical factor in determining environmental feasibility. Benetti will also discuss innovative methods for overcoming shark predation at aquaculture cages, one of the most significant challenges that farmers have thus far faced.

Sherman Wilhelm, director of the Division of Aquaculture at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, will discuss Florida's newly proposed regulations for offshore fish farming, including best management practices, aimed at ensuring economic viability for a developing industry while also achieving state environmental conservation goals. An afternoon session focused on offshore sea cages will follow the press conference and will include a discussion by conference attendees of the proposed Florida framework, which is essential to allowing commercial offshore ventures in Florida to move forward.

Additional experts will be on hand at the conference to answer questions as needed.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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