It’s not every day that catching up on scientific literature causes you to almost do a spit-take on your laptop screen. This happened to me recently due to the weird and wild world of aquaculture. Aquaculture is the practice of growing aquatic animals such as fish and shellfish for the purpose of food, and has been held up as both a savior and destroyer of the marine ecosystem. To get an idea of what this generally looks like (at least here in the U.S.), Amy has a whole series of posts on aquaculture operations in North Carolina.
As with land-based farming, aquaculturists are motivated to find ways to increase the food value of their stock. The methods used are varied, from high-protein feed mixes to genetic manipulation. Recently, farmed salmon genetically-modified to grow larger and faster than their wild conspecifics have been approved for human consumption by the FDA, though not without debate. This man-made subspecies was created by modifying the already-existing DNA of the fish, but what if it turned out that simply injecting DNA from a different species could improve the growth and protein output of farmed fish? And what if that foreign DNA came from sharks?
Continue reading Shark DNA Used to Buff Up Aquacultured Fish
Jay onto his boat, photo by author
Though oyster mariculture isn’t new to places like the Chesapeake Bay, Jay Styron’s Carolina Mariculture Company, based in Cedar Island, NC, is a shining vision of the future in North Carolina. Much of the state’s efforts in aquaculture are directed at tilapia, catfish, and hybrid striped bass, which are grown in ponds on traditional farm land. These are often grown as a means of diversifying an existing farm economy. Mariculture, though, blends this type of aquaculture with commercial fishing to grow seafood in estuaries and inshore regions, creating a saltier crop. In many ways mariculture should be embraced by both farming and fishing communities but is often instead viewed as the strange uncle of the food production family. Enter pioneer Jay Styron, who grows oysters not only for food but also demonstration purposes – and he proudly creates delicious oysters.
Continue reading Aquaculture in NC: Carolina Mariculture Co.
“We just sold a much bigger one to Denmark, but couldn’t be this style”, said the trade show representative as if he had traveled to the town next door. Aquaculture has its roots in northern Europe in many ways, mainly through connections to the beginnings of domesticating Atlantic salmon. So many American companies are making good money selling their technology and feed to customers around the world that have already made the step into large-scale aquacultural production.
A few countries in particular made their influence known several times: Denmark, Chile, and Canada. Though these have prominent roles in the global capture fisheries as well, their particular geology gave them a head start on salmon that is expanding over into other types of aquaculture.
Continue reading Aquaculture in NC: The Global Connection
Lest you think aquaculture is like your childhood fish tank on a larger scale, let me remind you of the plecostomus in that tank. You know, the thing that sat stuck to the back of the tank behind the plant so that the family could never quite find it. Yet somehow, despite the fact that you could swear it never moved and could have been a stone decoration rather than an organism, this little helper kept every surface of that tank sparkly clean. Algae-free glass, gravel, and plants. But what if you have large, outdoor ponds and each mouth to feed costs you money if it doesn’t eventually end up as dinner?
This is exactly when you have to stop thinking of these operations as just a tank of fish. They are nestled in the surrounding ecosystem, full of naturally occuring algae – some good and some bad. For eastern North Carolina, both the wind and the tide might carry in some future algae blooms to your tanks, which are well-stocked with nutrient-rich fish poop to feed it. Instead, as NC Aquaculture Conference speaker DE Brune puts it, you have to think of your tanks and ponds as “designed ecosystems”.
Continue reading Aquaculture in NC: Designed Ecosystems
This past Friday on the banks of the Neuse in New Bern, NC, people interested in aquaculture in the region gathered to discuss the future. The group packed the ballroom in the Hilton with scientists, extension agents, interested citizens, and of course – producers. The afternoon before some attendees had the chance to visit farms in the area firsthand, one of which I’ve previously written about (White Rock Fish Farm). Friday held talks on the science, economics, and policies of aquaculture. Saturday morning wrapped up with freshwater and saltwater workshops tackling the details of growing fish. Parallel to the whole event was a trade show exhibiting the myriad food options available, water quality testing technology, cages and nets, greenhouses, and contacts for state programs. Friday night, there was proper celebration of aquaculture in the form of the Aquafood festival showcasing products from around the state. Take home message from the event? I left wanting to put a tank in my small Beaufort yard alongside the goats, chickens, and vegetable garden.
Continue reading Aquaculture in NC: North Carolina Aquaculture Development Conference
“It’s a mom and pop operation, you could say”, described Ted Davis, owner of White Rock Fish Farm in Vanceboro NC. His smile extended ear to ear as he talked about his farm – and the length he goes to ensure his fish are never stressed on their way to the market. The trick? The farm’s small size – 8 ponds – allow the fish to be harvested by hand, each one receiving individual attention on their way to a shipping container. Another thing that makes his farm special? The hybrid striped bass have personality. They’re scared of tractors, eat more when there’s algae in their pond, and elicit hugs from visiting children.
Mr. Davis takes a whole day, with a helper, in harvesting his hybrid striped bass before they begin their frozen journey to Canada. Other growers, including his neighbors down the road, will spend just hours handling even more fish. Hybrid striped bass, however, bleed when they’re stressed. This turns their flesh and fins red, muddling the prized stripes for the marketplace. Plus, stressed fish release stress hormones and other chemicals that consumers can taste. So the White Rock way is to remove as much stress from the fish’s life as possible. Continue reading Aquaculture in North Carolina: White Rock Fish Farm
This year we’re starting a new series highlighting the many faces of aquaculture in eastern North Carolina. From research facilities to new species under domestication to large facilities to feed the masses, there’s a lot going on in the state’s low-lying coast. Periodically, we’ll visit one and bring you pictures and stories from the operation. Stay tuned for more.
The entrance to the MARC facility. Scenic. Photo by Andrew David Thaler
Tucked on the banks of Sleepy Creek between the two small towns of Marshallberg and Smyrna, NC, a world of new aquaculture ideas grows – NC State’s Marine Aquaculture Research Center. A single building with large tanks behind emerged from the landscape as we drove down the dirt farm road that connects the property to the main road. Originally planned as a three-building complex, recent budget cuts felt throughout the state have made the operation smaller – but no less important. The facility houses projects for anyone with an idea for how to forward aquaculture in the 21st century – be they local researchers, students, or people already in the industry. The two major projects happening during our visit are a comparison of hybrid and striped bass feeding efficiencies at a variety of temperatures and continuing development of a waste-management strategy for tank effluent water. There was also a red porgy mating effort and mud minnow spawning setup.
Continue reading Aquaculture in North Carolina: NC State’s Marine Aquaculture Research Center
Coho salmon - public domain image
In 2008, a deadly virus decimated Chilean aquaculture facilities, causing $2 billion in damage and crippling an industry. This week, preliminary reports suggest that this same disease may have infected wild salmon in the north Pacific. The internet has been blowing up with news reports of Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISA) detected in wild salmon populations. Reports range from balanced - Deadly Fish Farm Virus Found in Wild Pacific Salmon – to hyperbolic - B.C.’s salmon feedlots need to be closed – but all hinge on the fact that ISA, a lethal salmon-infecting virus previously resigned to aquaculture facilities, has been detected in wild salmon populations in British Columbia. This has the potential to be a very big deal. ISA is 90% lethal and mortality occurs in 10 days or less. The virus is waterborn, but can also be transmitted through handling with contaminated equipment. There is no treatment once a fish is infected.
Before I go on, a couple points need to be clarified:
- ISA does not infect humans, though as it threatens a fishery and a major agricultural industry, it most certainly affects humans.
- ISA was isolated from 2 wild sockeye salmon. It has not been confirmed from independent test yet, although one statement indicates that the current infection is from a non-infectious strain of ISA (which raises some interesting questions about who currently knows what about this outbreak).
Continue reading Salmon, aquaculture, and the spread of Infectious Salmon Anemia