VIRGINIA KEY, FLA. (September 15, 2006) – A University of Miami Rosenstiel School offshore aquaculture program has been recognized with two grants totaling $550,000 from NOAA's National Marine Aquaculture Initiative 2006 with an expected total of $1 million over two years, pending congressional appropriations. The grants support two ongoing projects: one that works to improve hatchery and offshore aquaculture's technology and another that measures environmental impacts and develops a means for preemptive monitoring.
Dr. Daniel Benetti, associate professor and chairman of Rosenstiel School's Division of Marine Affairs and Policy, along with Dr. Larry Brand, a professor in Rosenstiel School's Division of Marine Biology and Fisheries, are the principal investigators on the two projects.
"With fisheries in decline, the burden is on scientists to develop truly ecologically sustainable aquaculture programs," Benetti said. "We plan to address some of the immediate technological problems facing aquaculture to also make this a process that is economically sustainable."
The Rosenstiel School aquaculture program is a unique collaboration between academia, private enterprise, and government, involving the Rosenstiel School, Snapperfarm Inc., Great Bay Aquaculture LLC, Ecomicrobials LLC, NOAA Fisheries Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution.
Rosenstiel School's aquaculture program has developed offshore demonstration projects that are completely submerged in the deep waters. Due to greater depths and stronger currents, this open-sea approach disperses the organic and inorganic material typically associated with aquaculture. The project raises cobia, a firm-textured, white fish known for its unique ability to grow 10 times faster than other marine fish in this setting.
With this new NOAA funding, scientists will use the most advanced hatchery and grow-out technology based on the best available science in the field to develop a productive activity that aims to provide seafood with the least environmental footprint. Research and development over the past five years with partial funding from NOAA has shown that a high-value fish such as cobia can be produced from egg to market with low environmental impact. Benetti's funding from NOAA will support his efforts to address some of the technological hurdles, and Brand's research will continue the program's emphasis on monitoring and minimizing environmental impacts. Both researchers have been working together in monitoring open ocean aquaculture demonstration projects in Puerto Rico and the Bahamas.
International regulatory agencies are concerned that aquaculture's global integration may lead to permanent loss of natural marine habitats, reliance on fishmeal from capture fisheries, and the introduction of non-native species to local ecosystems. That is why a standardized, simple monitoring technique that can be applied uniformly throughout the industry is considered essential.
"Our research will determine if these fish cages have an impact on the local environment, and if so, how much," Brand said. "Our goal is to have an early warning system to detect any environmental impacts when they are minor so that any major impacts can be prevented."
The grants are two of 11 that NOAA's National Marine Aquaculture Initiative (NMAI) is awarding this year that total $3.6 million in support. Launched by NOAA in 1998, the NMAI was designed to channel the growing interest in marine aquaculture toward the development of environmentally sustainable aquaculture technologies.
Rosenstiel School is part of the University of Miami and, since its founding in the 1940s, has grown into one of the world's premier marine and atmospheric research institutions.
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