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ARS Home » Northeast Area » Leetown, West Virginia » Cool and Cold Water Aquaculture Research » Research » Research Project #437993

Research Project: Support the Viability and Expansion of Land-Based Closed-Containment Aquaculture

Location: Cool and Cold Water Aquaculture Research

Project Number: 8082-31320-003-002-A
Project Type: Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Apr 1, 2020
End Date: Mar 30, 2025

Land-based, closed-containment aquaculture has numerous benefits upon which producers can capitalize, such as: increased environmental control of fish culture conditions; the ability to optimize these environmental conditions for increased fish production, health and welfare; enhanced biosecurity to minimize the likelihood of obligate pathogen entry or the dissemination of pathogens into the surrounding environment; the ability to locate farms close to markets and/or regions supplying inexpensive power; and the ability to capture wastes to significantly reduce environmental contamination. Raising salmonids to market size entirely in land-based systems (versus the traditional approach using coastal sea cages) is, however, a relatively novel methodology, and represents a current frontier in agriculture. As such, numerous improvements and refinements are necessary for this growing industry sector to be viable and sustainable, and TCFFI will continue to be at the vanguard of providing industry with solid research support for closed-containment RAS development. From extensive discussion and feedback from key industry stakeholders, critical research avenues were identified that will directly address stakeholder needs as the industry continues to grow. Objective 1. Improve fish health, performance, and welfare in recirculating aquaculture systems. Sub-objective 1.1 Evaluate salmonids grown to market size in a semi-commercial scale freshwater RAS. a) Collaborate with NCWMAC to evaluate multiple strains of Atlantic salmon and their performance in a RAS environment. b) Assess genetic strain of steelhead (including USDA-strain rainbow trout) raised to 4kg in a RAS environment. Sub-objective 1.2 Assess environmental manipulation to reduce maturation in mixed-sex diploid Atlantic salmon. Sub-objective 1.3 Improve biological monitoring and management of salmonids in RAS through technological integration of next-generation biomonitors. Objective 2. Support land-based salmonid recirculating aquaculture systems production through increased technological and operational efficiencies and novel, supplemental revenue streams. Sub-objective 2.1 Evaluate methodologies to convert RAS waste to value-added products. 1.a: Assess feasibility of new composting technologies of RAS waste solids and their capacity to generate sellable products. 1.b: Assess feasibility of anaerobic digestion of RAS waste solids to generate biogas/energy. Sub-objective 2.2 Assess novel methods to improve RAS water quality, including optimized integration of membrane biological reactors. Sub-objective 2.3 Pilot and evaluate new computing technologies for RAS integration to optimize system operational efficiencies.

The domestic salmonid aquaculture industry is currently experiencing a significant departure from traditional farming practices, as evidenced by recent, substantial capital investment in large-scale land-based, closed-containment facilities utilizing water recirculation aquaculture system (RAS) technologies. While this is an encouraging evolution for U.S. aquaculture overall, this relatively new approach to raising market-sized Atlantic salmon, steelhead trout, and other economically important species is still a frontier in agriculture, remains largely untested at commercial scale, and requires significant refinement and optimization in technological, biological, and economic methods and strategies. The Conservation Fund Freshwater Institute (TCFFI), an extramural program of the USDA-ARS, has been at the forefront of RAS technology research and development for over two decades, and at present we are uniquely suited to continue serving this growing agricultural sector through focused, industry-relevant research and innovation. Our next 5-year project plan seeks to address critical areas that are necessary to support the sustainable growth of the U.S. land-based, closed-containment aquaculture industry; specifically, our objectives fall under two broad categories aimed at improving: i) the biological performance of salmonids in RAS, and ii) the technical and economic efficiencies of land-based closed-containment operations. Research activities will include identifying genetic strains of Atlantic salmon and steelhead for optimal performance in RAS, assessing methods to reduce early sexual maturation and improve water quality, developing next-generation biomonitors and computing technologies to improve fish health management and RAS environmental control, and developing means for RAS producers to monetize waste streams for enhanced economic viability.