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Advancing Sustainable Aquaculture Production

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The ARS aquaculture research program delivers new knowledge and technologies that improve domestic aquaculture production efficiency and product quality while minimizing impacts on natural resources. This work advances the efforts of more than 2,900 aquaculture farmers who produce more than $1.5 billion worth of goods annually to meet the market demand generated by 300 million U.S. consumers. The following accomplishments highlight ARS FY 2020 advances in catfish, trout, pompano, and salmon production.

Delta Select strain of channel catfish released to industry. Improved catfish germplasm in aquaculture will reduce production costs and allow U.S. catfish farmers to remain competitive in the global seafood market. ARS researchers in Stoneville, MS, developed the ‘Delta Select’ strain of channel catfish through three generations of genetic selection, leading to a 25 percent increase in growth rate and 0.9 percent increase in carcass yield compared to the non-selected Delta Control line that originated from the same population. Approximately 90,000 head (180,000 pounds) of 2-year-old Delta Select catfish were released to industry, providing U.S. farmers access to improved catfish germplasm that will make them more efficient and profitable.

A bacteriophage for preventing disease in rainbow trout. Bacteriophages (phages) are viruses that infect and kill bacteria, self-replicating in high numbers in the process. Used against disease-causing microbes, phages are excellent candidates for the prevention or treatment of bacterial diseases. ARS researchers in Leetown, WV, identified a new phage that kills Yersinia ruckeri, the rainbow trout pathogen. This phage is unique; in addition to killing its bacterial host by infection, it also binds to and degrades lipopolysaccharide, a large carbohydrate structure that covers the surface of some bacteria and reduces the effectiveness of the trout immune system. By trimming off this protective layer, the phage renders Yersinia ruckeri susceptible to the trout immune system, preventing its survival inside its fish host.

A draft genome sequence for Florida pompano. The lack of available genome information is a hurdle in implementing state-of-the-art selective breeding strategies for many aquaculture species, including Florida pompano. ARS-funded researchers in Fort Pierce, FL, established a complete draft genome of the Florida pompano by using a hybrid sequencing method and a novel bioinformatics workflow. This draft genome will improve farm production and profitability and enhance breeding strategies by identifying genes associated with aquaculture production efficiency and product quality. 

Genome-enabled breeding tools for Atlantic salmon. The number of U.S. commercial Atlantic salmon farming operations is expected to increase 5-fold over the next 3 years, and demand for genetically improved stocks will increase dramatically. ARS researchers in Franklin, ME, and Leetown, WV, created an improved genome reference sequence for the North American Atlantic salmon and developed the first DNA chip that enables the use of genomic information in breeding strategies. This DNA chip is publicly available and in use by commercial breeding programs.