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NOAA Sea Grant announces $2.1M to support aquaculture research and extension in Maine

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By Milthon Lujan

by The University of Maine
NOAA Sea Grant has announced $2.1 million to fund four projects that advance aquaculture research and extension to support sustainable aquaculture in Maine. The projects are part of a larger $14 million NOAA Sea Grant investment to strengthen aquaculture across the United States.

Photo: Kathlyn Tenga-Gonzalez, Maine Sea Grant
Photo: Kathlyn Tenga-Gonzalez, Maine Sea Grant

Investigators from the University of Maine Aquaculture Research Institute, Maine Aquaculture Innovation Center, UMaine Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research, and Maine Sea Grant will lead projects to develop feed for finfish, improve Atlantic sea scallop hatchery techniques, diversify lumpfish broodstock, and advance the work of the Maine Aquaculture Hub, respectively.

“Innovation and diversification in Maine’s aquaculture industry have created new jobs and economic opportunities in our state. We welcome this investment from NOAA, which will support the ongoing, cutting-edge research by UMaine scientists and students. These projects will help to increase the sustainability and economic viability of aquaculture in coastal communities here in Maine and across the country,” said Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King in a joint statement.

“Year after year, the Sea Grant program protects thousands of acres of coastal ecosystems, generates hundreds of millions of dollars in economic development, and creates thousands of jobs across the country,” said Rep. Chellie Pingree in a press release. “As a longtime supporter of the Sea Grant program and an advocate for it through my role on the House Appropriations Committee, I’m thrilled aquaculture projects in Maine are being invested in. This funding is yet another example of how Sea Grant is fostering innovation and entrepreneurship to support Maine’s working waterfront and coastal communities.”

Projects in Maine receiving NOAA Sea Grant funding are as follows:

Nutritional Strategies for Improved Larval Production of Marine Finfish with an Emphasis on Seriola sp.
PI: Matt Hawkyard, UMaine Aquaculture Research Institute

One of the major challenges with growing marine finfish in captivity is associated with bottlenecks in the early life stages. Larval marine finfish are among the smallest vertebrates on Earth and therefore require microscopic feeds. In the wild, marine fish larvae eat living marine organisms (zooplankton) which can’t be economically replicated in hatcheries. Moreover, formulated feeds are challenging to produce at the microscopic scale and present a suite of challenges given that they must pass through the water before they are, hopefully, consumed by the fish larvae. Researchers will be working with industry partners to produce and refine microparticulate larval feeds and evaluate the effects of diets on the growth and survival of California yellowtail and yellowtail amberjack.

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“We are trying to get away from living organisms as feeds and move toward formulated diets, as we do in other fields of agriculture. This project will allow us to develop feeding technologies that are practical and adaptable to industry use,” said Hawkyard.

“Cracking the Shell”: A Collaborative Approach to Developing Hatchery Production of the Atlantic Sea Scallop, Placopecten magellanicus
PI: Chris Davis, Maine Aquaculture Innovation Center

This project will establish reliable best practices for larval rearing and settlement protocols for sea scallops, identify sea scallop hatchery microbiomes as they relate to health status, examine the immune systems of sea scallops larvae, establish reliable best practices for sea scallop broodstock conditioning and spawning, evaluate the economics of commercial scale hatchery production, and engage with stakeholders to create a community of practice.

“This Sea Grant funded project is an exciting opportunity to bring together academic, NGO, industry and federal researchers with the goal of developing reliable best practices in hatchery and nursery culture of Atlantic sea scallops,” said Davis. “The team of investigators are from the Maine Aquaculture Innovation Center, the University of Maine, Mook Sea Farms, the Downeast Institute and the NOAA Fisheries Milford Laboratory and represent a wide range of scientific disciplines including aquaculturists, shellfish biologists, microbiologists, aquatic immunologists and economists. We hope that this research will help the Maine aquaculture industry continue to lead the nation in development of innovative approaches in sustainable seafood systems.”

Domestication and Breeding of Lumpfish to Accelerate Successful Commercialization and use for Sea Lice Biocontrol in the Northeast U.S.
PI: Stephen Eddy, UMaine Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research

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Lumpfish are widely used in farmed salmon pens in Europe and Eastern Canada as cleaner fish for biological control of parasitic sea lice, and Northeast U.S. salmon growers are eager to implement the approach here. The project’s main objective is to establish a geographically diverse, self-sustaining lumpfish breeding colony using wild juveniles collected from the U.S. Gulf of Maine. During the project, researchers will capture young lumpfish, acclimate them in captivity for breeding, and then grow hatchery juveniles for stocking into commercial salmon pens.

“This project is a great example of how the University of Maine can partner with organizations such as Sea Grant, USDA, University of New Hampshire, and the private sector to conduct applied research that is relevant to industry while making aquaculture more sustainable,” said Eddy. “We are excited and grateful that Sea Grant is helping us expand our efforts to develop a U.S. lumpfish program.”

Supporting Industry Needs Through Maine Aquaculture Hub
PI: Dana Morse, Maine Sea Grant

This funding will continue support for the Maine Aquaculture Hub, a collaboration between Coastal Enterprises, Inc., the Maine Aquaculture Association, Maine Aquaculture Innovation Center, UMaine’s Aquaculture Research Institute, UMaine School of Marine Sciences, Maine Sea Grant, and UMaine Cooperative Extension. Through this project, the Hub team will continue to coordinate the Aquaculture in Shared Waters (AQSW) program and support efforts to implement the recommendations of the 2022 Maine Aquaculture Roadmap. The collaborative will continue to expand with new partnerships, as a functional way to meet the growing and increasingly diverse needs for education, research, outreach and industry in the state.

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The project also includes specific activities to address Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), starting with needs assessments of underrepresented communities, groups and individuals. The needs assessments will articulate challenges to accessing educational and technical training programs and will guide future programming efforts. The Hub team will also centralize all materials for the AQSW program into one web platform, with the goal of making them more easily accessible and organized.

“Aquaculture in Shared Waters has proven to be a valuable and important resource, and we’re excited to continue that work,” said Morse. “The needs assessment will allow us to better understand the different challenges, expertise, and experiences of various people working in this space. Sharing expertise, approaches, networks and ideas will make the whole aquaculture sector more creative, inventive, and ultimately more successful.”

Contact: Hannah Robbins, hannah.robbins@maine.edu

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