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A Message From Your Aquaculture National Program Leader
Expanding Our Horizons: Brazilian Aquaculture and a Role for ARS
Jeff Silverstein, ARS National Program Leader; Ariovoldo Luchiari of EMBRAPA; and Ryan Moore, ARS-OIRP, along the Rio Negro, Brazil
What a trip! I just got back from two weeks in Brazil to visit and learn about their growing research capability in aquaculture. In addition to the aquaculture opportunities, we were able to visit the soybean center and the beef cattle center as well. Here are some highlights of a truly phenomenal experience:
Having never been to Brazil, and not speaking Portuguese, I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to get around and communicate. Many people, especially the scientists and professionals, spoke English and when communication was difficult there were easy smiles of resignation—no hostility.
I was traveling with Ryan Moore, from the ARS Office of International Research Programs (OIRP), and Ladislau Martin, the Labex (Lab exchange) coordinator from Embrapa ( Brazilian Federal Agricultural Research Program), based in the OIRP office in Beltsville.
There are many parallels between ARS and Embrapa: both have research centers across the country focused on various agricultural problems and opportunities, and both have administrative functions to set and review priorities, coordinate efforts across centers and disciplines, and respond to agricultural emergencies. One major difference I saw is that their focus on social and economic impacts and the use of journalists and communication specialists seemed more pronounced than in the ARS system.
Going into the trip, I was especially focused on finding areas for collaboration in health and feeds issues. Not only are these areas I consider to be of high importance to U.S. aquaculture and to a growing Brazilian industry, but these are areas that would not damage the competitiveness of the U.S. industry. Right now, the philosophy for the health issue is that diseases know no boundaries, so controlling diseases anywhere ultimately helps everywhere. And the challenges for feeds faced by Brazil and the U.S. are similar, so solving problems related to using plant and alternative protein and oil sources will benefit both countries. In fact, the feeds issue is a big one for the whole world and aquaculture production in general, because the demand for fish meal and fish oil is high and the supply is limited everywhere. Fortunately, Brazil is a country with huge crop production and the potential to grow renewable alternative protein and oil sources for aquatic animal feeds—great opportunities here.
We first visited a research center in San Paulo state in the town of Jaguariuna: the Embrapa Environment facility. Scientists at this center are studying invasive species and biological control, developing natural products for therapeutic uses, and measuring environmental residues of various organic and inorganic compounds. The aquaculture work is led by Dr. Julio Queiroz, who was one of the organizers of the visit and one leader of Brazilian aquaculture development at Embrapa. His focus is on water quality (Julio did post-doctoral work with Professor Claude Boyd at Auburn University), with a current PhD student working on biofiltration and rearing densities for tilapia.
Next we toured the Embrapa Soja (soybean) center in Londrina ( Paranástate). We discussed the strong interest and support of the soybean industry for aquaculture in the US, and talked about the Plant Products in Aquafeeds group and the USDA/NOAA Alternative Feeds Initiative.
Next, it was on to the city of Campo Grande and the beef cattle center in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul. There we saw lots of Bos Indicus cattle(known as Nelore, they are originally from India): some European breeds and some crossbreds. Nearly all the beef in Brazil is pasture grass fed—there is very little feed lot cattle production. This center does some interesting research on forage breeding.
We then traveled to Corumba and the Panatanal region of Brazil, along the Paraguay River on the border with Bolivia. This is a huge flooded ecosystem with a tremendous diversity of plants and animals, including lots of fish. We saw (and ate) a few species of catfish: pintado and cachara, a very carnivorous group of Pimelodidcatfish. I also tried Tambaqui, a Colossoma and relative of pacu. Both were very good.
We then traveled to the Amazon region and got to spend some time around the Rio Negro, just upstream from where it joins another river and becomes the Amazon. Here we saw and ate Pirarucu ( Arapaima), a lungfish. This fish, which is genetically on its way to tetrapod, tasted exactly like its phylogenetic position: partway between fish and chicken. The meat was very firm, and had mild flavor with excellent texture. Because it is also a very carnivorous and cannibalistic fish, many barriers exist to successful aquaculture. Although we did see many ponds of them, hatched and reared in culture, the rate of success is still low. In this region, too, tambaqui is being raised in culture.
I met people in all of these labs interested in working with ARS scientists on any number of topics, and feeds development and health were priorities for them, too. I suspect this is only the beginning of our interactions with them.