About the Program

The Sustainable American Aquaculture program from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) is intended to advance innovative research in sustainable farmed fish and shellfish production. Aquaculture has the potential to provide millions of Americans with nutritious foods while contributing to the economic health of communities across the country. Scientific research in this area has typically been funded at low levels compared to other agricultural commodities, however as the industry grows, research will play a critical role in understanding the biology and marketability of a variety of fish and shellfish species and in developing environmentally-friendly practices that sustain production.

Four active projects, described below, are the result of an RFA issued in 2017. Researchers are working to enhance economic opportunities to U.S. farmers and increasing the supply of domestically-produced, nutritious foods to meet growing consumer demand.

Grants Awarded

Maximizing Nutrient Delivery for California Yellowtail and California Halibut

Principle Investigator Matt Hawkyard, Ph.D.

Matt Hawkyard, Ph.D., Oregon State University research associate, and collaborators are developing more efficient methods for delivering nutrients to commercially raised marine fish with the goal of improving production of California yellowtail and California halibut, two high-value fish species. Researchers expect the technology to be applicable to other species and available for adoption by industry within three years of project completion. A $275,792 FFAR grant is being matched by Hubbs-Seaworld Research Institute (HSWRI), Oregon State University and Reed Mariculture.

Current commercially available products that deliver taurine, a nutrient that benefits early stage fish growth and development, are inefficient and labor and cost intensive. Researchers have developed microparticles, or liposomes, that more effectively deliver taurine to fish larvae but have observed negative impacts from the “carrier particles” used to deliver the nutrients. This project will build on previous research to optimize nutrient delivery while minimizing negative effects of the "carrier particles," or vehicles for nutrient delivery.

Data will be shared in an open access, searchable database hosted by Oregon State University.

Maine Scallop Aquaculture Initiative: Pioneering New Production Technology

Hugh Cowperthwaite, Coastal Enterprises, Inc (CEI) fisheries program director, is pioneering new scallop production techniques with the aim of establishing an economically viable market for farmed Atlantic Sea Scallops, beginning Maine. Cowperthwaite will investigate the economic viability of a Japanese scallop production technique that has been shown to grow scallops faster and produce larger meat yields. The technique, called “ear-hanging” involves pinning scallops by their shells, or “ears” to ropes hanging vertically in the ocean. The method gives the shellfish more room to grow and better access to nutrients in the water than traditional techniques using cages and trays. CEI is matching a $300,000 FFAR grant.

Publicly available results will include white papers, a manual for scallop growers, trade association presentations and a sample business model detailing costs and projected revenues to inform prospective scallop farmers.

Environmental Conditioning Practices to Improve Pacific Geoduck Claim Production

Steven Roberts, Ph.D., University of Washington Kenneth K. Chew endowed professor, and collaborators are researching how to improve Pacific geoduck clam production by altering environmental conditions at key stages of the cycle and identifying genetic markers associated with optimal traits. Results will help inform best practices for breeding high-yielding clams and will be applicable to other shellfish species. The particular species of clam is a high value product on the west coast, but production could be significantly more efficient with additional research.

The $877,006 FFAR grant is being matched by Baywater, Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe, University of Rhode Island and University of Washington.

The results of these experiments will be made available publicly through online repositories, blogs, media, dissertation work, peer reviewed publications and a new hatchery handbook.

Principle Investigator Steven Roberts, Ph.D.

Feasibility Study for an Alaskan Sea Cucumber Aquaculture Facility

Co-Principal Investigators Robert Koenizter, McDowell Group Senior Project Manager and  Charlotte Regula-Whitefield, Ph.D., Southeast Alaska Regional Dive Fisheries Association  Scientist, and collaborators are conducting an economic feasibility study to examine the potential for an Alaskan Sea Cucumber aquaculture facility. Currently, commercial scale production of the species does not exist. The project will result in guidelines for potential sea cucumber operations and identify future research needs for the industry. Findings will be presented to stakeholders in Alaska and other potential markets, including Washington state and Maine.

SARDFA, an organization formed to promote sustainable fisheries by supporting stock assessments, was the first organization to successfully raise sea cucumbers in captivity. Sea cucumbers are marine invertebrate animals similar to starfish or sea urchins.

The wild sea cucumber population in Alaska, which supports hundreds of jobs, is currently being threatened by sea otters. If an economically viable market for farmed sea cucumbers is feasible, the industry holds potential to create jobs for divers, boat tenders, processing facility staff and other supporting businesses. The project will result in guidelines for potential sea cucumber operations and identify future research needs for the industry. Findings will be presented to stakeholders in Alaska and other potential markets, including Washington state and Maine.



About one billion people worldwide rely on fish and shellfish as their primary source of animal protein, and these foods contain all the essential amino acids and are rich in vitamins A, B12 and D, minerals such as calcium and iodine, the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids crucial for brain health (FAO, 2016; Hibbeln et al., 2007; Thilsted, 2016). It is clear that fish products play an important role in food security and improving human nutritional outcomes (FAO, 2016; Thilsted, 2016). However, the demand for fish continues to outstrip supply: it is projected that by 2030 the world will need to produce an additional 30 million metric tons of fish (FAO, 2016; OECD/FAO, 2015). Producing fish and shellfish sustainably to meet projected demand presents a challenge that will require appropriately-managed aquaculture in addition to wild-capture fishing (FAO, 2011; FAO, 2016; Lowther and Liddel, 2015; OECD/FAO, 2015). The exciting potential of fish and shellfish farming is evident in the variety of species and cultivation systems used globally, and scientific advancement in this area plays an important role in supporting sustainable protein production for a growing population.
Aquaculture is the fastest-growing food-producing sector worldwide (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization), however the U.S. ranks 15th in production at ~$1.3 billion annually (Lowther and Liddel, 2015). In fact, approximately half of the seafood consumed in the U.S. is produced by aquaculture, conducted primarily in Asia (Kite-Powell, 2013; Lowther and Liddel, 2015). Domestically, aquaculture is conducted in states ranging from Mississippi and Arkansas to Washington and Maine (USDA-NASS, 2013). Research supported by FFAR will contribute to important economic opportunities for farmers in these states and others.