Fish and shellfish farmers are facing formidable challenges. To meet today’s growing demand for seafood in a sustainable way, U.S. aquaculture producers, especially small and mid-sized ones, need new ways to cut their production costs while improving product quality and reducing environmental impacts.
ARS’s strong national research program in Aquaculture (#106) is bringing resources to bear to coordinate genomics, genetics, nutrition, health, and physiology in research projects to enhance the farming of fish and other aquatic species. National program #106 also cooperates with ARS research programs in the natural resources and sustainable agriculture areas as well as with Food Safety (national program #108) and Quality and Utilization of Agricultural Products (national program #306).
One of the priorities of the ARS aquaculture program is to develop genomics libraries and bioinformatic tools for current and emerging farmed aquatic species and incorporate that information into breeding research to enhance available germplasm. Data from breeding, nutrition, and health studies feeds back into genomics work and provides direct results to enhance production.
ARS breeding programs, several of which are run in conjunction with university counterparts, are developing fast-growing fish and shellfish with enhanced disease resistance, improved fillet yield, and better reproduction. These breeding programs are based on traditional selective breeding practices, though they are moving quickly to incorporate information from genomics research into the selective breeding programs.
As ARS expands the genomics information available for farmed aquatic species, breeding research is able to incorporate genomic information and improve the selection process. ARS has already identified individual genes for growth, metabolism, muscle development, and fish health.
Genomic data is now enabling researchers to develop multitrait selection projects, using tools such as genetic markers for important genomic locations. Development of other tools, such as new methods for cryopreserving aquatic germplasm, is helping to enhance research and provide an important backup for aquatic species. Long-term cryopreservation storage of gametes for other aquacultured species, such as striped bass, tilapia, shrimp, and oyster, is being developed.
ARS scientists are also working on methods to genetically identify and reproductively isolate domesticated stocks to prevent unintended interactions between farmed and wild populations.
"ARS National Research Program for Aquaculture" was published in the October 2010 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.