Friday, December 10, 2010

MSc Module 6: Aquaculture in Practice

The sixth and final module for the Foundation portion of the Masters thesis was titled ‘Aquaculture in Practice’.  The first week was spent in the field, visiting fish farms along the west coast of Scotland (see previous blog article).

The second week we spent at the Institute, receiving a variety of lectures on the economics of the aquaculture industry.  These topics included cashflows, supply and demand, marketing, and financial assessments.  The main assessed project was a complete feasibility study for a given aquaculture operation: our group chose to set up a kingfish (Seriola lalandi) facility in New Zealand.  We looked at all the aspects of starting such a farm, including capital and operating costs, markets, prices, and investment analysis.  

At the end of the week, we gave an investment pitch to a group of professors who played the part of potential investors, grilling us about where their money was going and what we were going to do with it.  When the dust settled, the operation that we designed stood up to their challenges, and we were commended for constructing such a sound business venture.

With the Foundation Modules now complete, we have a month-long break for the Holidays, during which I will be traveling in Europe.  After we return, we begin the Advanced Modules, where we are allowed to choose the courses we take in an effort to specialize our knowledge and gain specific degree outcomes.  As I will be pursuing a degree in ‘Sustainable Aquaculture Business Management’, the majority of my courses will focus on that motif.

See you in the New Year!  

Sunday, December 5, 2010

4-Day Study Tour of Fish Farms in the Scottish Highlands

Gorsten Salmon Farm, Fort Williams (Marine Harvest Scotland)
 This week our MSc class had the incredible opportunity to participate in a 4-day study tour of fish farms along the west coast of Scotland.  We stayed in Fort Williams, at the base of Ben Nevis in the Scottish Highlands, and while the temperate never got above 0o C (it was closer to -10!), the experience was nevertheless invaluable!

Due to the terrible weather conditions (extreme cold and snow), we were late leaving Stirling the first day and only arrived in Fort Williams after dark.  The second day we started early, driving 2 hours to Ardtoe Marine Labs, a commercial and research facility that often collaborates with the Institute at Stirling.  Here, the farm manager, Jim Treasurer, gave us an overview lecture of the work that the facility is doing: broodstock programs for halibut, cod, haddock, turbot, and sole; experiments with wrasse to combat sea lice in salmon cages; and the culture of sea urchins, oysters, and seaweeds for integrated aquaculture systems.  After hearing about the work, we took a tour of the facility.

Our next stop was Lochailort Salmon Farm, a small research site owned and operated by Marine Harvest Scotland where feed trails are carried out.  After that, we headed down the road to the Lochailort Smolt Facility, where Marine Harvest hatches salmon eggs and grows them to smolts before shipping them to their ocean on-growing sites.

Wednesday found us split into two groups: in the morning, our group went to the Blar Mhor Marine Harvest Processing Plant, where salmon grown in Scotland are processed and shipped all over the world.  The fish are delivered freshly killed, and in the processing plant they are gutted, cleaned, and put on ice in boxes to be shipped out.  In the afternoon, we went to the Gorsten Salmon Farm, a Marine Harvest sea-cage site.  There, we took a boat out to the cages and saw them grading fish: this process separates fish into different size-classes to make harvesting easier and more effective. 

Upon returning to the hotel, we received two lectures: the first was from Douige Hunter, the technical Services Manager of Marine Harvest Scotland, and covered overviews of the Marine Harvest production cycle, as well as the state of the global salmon market.  The second was from Dave Cockerill, a veterinarian with Marine Harvest, who spoke about fish diseases and welfare issues.

Overall the trip was a resounding success: we got to see a wide variety of aquaculture systems and operations, we had a chance to talk in-depth with several industry people, and we received lots of different perspectives from different players along the salmon value chain.  Plus, no one in the class got frostbite!!

Oyster broodstock at Ardtoe Marine Labs (Viking Fish Farms)
Lochailort Salmon Farm (Marine Harvest Scotland)

Blar Mhor Salmon Processing Plant (Marine Harvest Scotland)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

MSc Module 5: Aquaculture Production Systems

We just completed a module titled “Aquaculture Production Systems”, which dealt with the more practical, engineering aspects of aquaculture technologies.  The first week we were given lectures by John Bostock, who covered a wide variety of topics including project design and planning, hydraulics, biofiltration, solids removal, sterilization, and processing, to name just a few.  Then, Francis Murray lectured extensively on recirculation systems, which is one area that I feel has a great deal of potential in the pursuit of sustainability.  Finally, Janet Brown lectured on the specifics of mollusc culture, and Colin Hepburn finished off the module with a comprehensive view of seaweed farming and seaweed value chains.

The assessment included a short exam, plus an individual production plan for a hypothetical aquaculture facility.  I chose to do my production plan for a small recirculation tilapia facility, as this is of interest to me and I have some experience designing this type of system.  While the project was immensely challenging and time-consuming, it is invaluable experience into a real-world scenario.

This particular module was important and interesting due to its practicality: additionally, as I am keen on the economics and design of aquaculture operations, this was the first time that we covered materials that I am seriously considering for a career path, so it was great to get this type of exposure.  The next module is called “Aquaculture in Practice”, and includes a 4-day study tour of fish farms along western Scotland!  

Monday, November 15, 2010

MSc Module 4: Genetics and Reproduction

Salmon smolts swimming around a submerged light
We just completed our fourth 2-week module, entitled 'Aquatic Animal Genetics and Reproduction'.  This module was the toughest one yet, but I found the material very useful and applicable.

Herve Miguad was one of the main lecturers, who covered the physiological aspects of fish reproduction, including endocrinology and environmental manipulation for the induction of spawning.  Brendan McAndrew covered the basics of genetic markers and several techniques currently used by the industry to undertake research into concepts such as selective breeding.  Then, Dave Penman lectured on sex ratio control (many farmers may only want to grow one sex of fish, as it may perform better) and chromosome sex manipulation (creating triploid fish- see my previous blog article on triploidy).  We then received a series of lectures on the major biological and practical differences of a variety of finfish hatchery operations, highlighting the ways in which technology conforms to reproductive strategy. 

This module included two field trips: one to Howietown to spawn brown trout broodstock (see my previous blog article), and the other to an Atlantic salmon smolting facility to practice a variety of industry techniques.  'Smolting' is the process that juvenile salmon go through to prepare themselves for the transition from freshwater, where they are born, to saltwater, where they will spend the majority of their lives.  At this smolt unit, owned and operated by the Institute, we practiced blood sampling and performing ultrasounds: the latter is used to determine the development stage of the gonads in large broodstock.  We also practiced inserting PIT (Passive Integrated Transponder) tags into fish: these are tiny capsules that emit a unique ten-digit number when placed next to an electronic reader.  They are inserted just underneath the skin and are used to individually identify fish for the purposes of selective breeding or the establishment of pedigree lines.

Overall, this module was difficult from an academic perspective, but the material seems integral to a comprehensive view of the industry.  The next module is ‘Aquaculture Production Systems’, and as this topic holds a much greater personal interest for me, I am very excited to see what it has in store!
Atlantic salmon smolt next to blood sampling and PIT tagging tools

Using ultrasound to look at the development of the ovaries in a broodstock brown trout

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Brown Trout Spawning

Today our MSc class had the incredible opportunity to go back to Howietown, the commercial fish farm owned and operated by the University of Stirling.  There, we saw the hatchery operation and helped the staff spawn their brown trout broodstock.

The broodstock are a population of fish that are kept for breeding purposes.  These are massive fish that have favourable traits that the farmers want to propagate to the offspring.   Under the staff’s supervision, we collected eggs from the females and milt from the males and mixed them together in buckets to fertilize the eggs.  These eggs were then placed in the hatchery, where they will incubate and hatch next spring.

This was an amazing opportunity to get some hands-on experience with spawning broodstock…I will let the pictures speak for themselves!

Expelling the eggs from a female

'Milking' a male- the white fluid is milt that contains sperm

My fish was very ripe and expelled her eggs easily!

Mixing the milt with the eggs completes the process of fertilization

These eggs have been fertilized and will incubate in this hatchery until they hatch in the spring

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sterile Fish Grow Faster and Reduce the Genetic Effects of Escapees

Fish escape from fish farms: this is a known and accepted fact.  Farmers do their best to reduce the risk of escapees, but often they still occur, and the effects that the escaped fish have on the environment is still being examined.  However, it is known that escapees can sometimes breed with wild fish, which can have severe genetic consequences for the wild population.

However, there is a method that can be used to create sterile fish, fish that are physiologically incapable of reproduction: this method is called ‘triploidy’.  Without delving into too much scientific jargon, triploidy involves interfering with the process of fertilization, resulting in an embryo that has more chromosomes than occur naturally.  These fish grow normally, but when they mature and are ready to mate, their gonads do not develop and they are incapable of producing viable sex cells.

This is NOT genetic modification: no genes have been changed or inserted.  Instead, artificial methods have been used to manipulate the number of chromosomes present, resulting in infertility.

But the benefits of triploidy do not stop at sterility: normal mature fish invest massive amounts of energy into gonad production.  In triploid fish, where the gonads do not develop, this energy can be utilized for growth instead of reproduction, meaning that triploid fish grow faster and have better feed conversion ratios than non-triploids: this has large implications for the economic viability of a given fish farm.  Plus, if these fish escape, they are guaranteed to not interbreed and hybridize with wild populations!

From a practical and an economic perspective, producing triploids is not challenging, so more commercial attention should be focused on this practice.  In my opinion, the benefits clearly outweigh the costs, and in an ever-growing effort to become more sustainable, this is a no-brainer for the aquaculture industry.

Cleaner Wrasse: Biological Pesticides to Combat Sea Lice

Cleaner wrasse eat dead tissues and parasites off larger fish
Sea lice are one of the largest challenges facing the salmon farming industry, and current treatment methods to combat these parasites involve chemicals that can have harmful effects on the environment.  However, an answer may be on the horizon: it has been found that cleaner wrasse, a group of fish found naturally all over the globe, have the ability to eat sea lice directly off infected salmon, thus reducing the need for chemical treatments.

In nature, cleaner wrasse form symbiotic relationships with other fish: the wrasse eat dead tissues and parasites off of the fish, which in turn enjoy the benefits of disinfection.  By placing wrasse in salmon cages, fish farmers can help mimic this natural relationship, moving towards more sustainable means of parasite control.

This concept is not new to the industry, but with the increasing pressure from governments and environmental groups to decrease the levels of chemicals used on farms, aquaculturists are taking a renewed interest in the use of wrasse as biological pesticides.  While the introduction of another species into salmon cages has challenges and impacts of its own, the wrasse seem to reduce overall numbers of sea lice and help curb their spread.  Additionally, if they can’t find any lice to eat, it has been demonstrated that the wrasse will start to eat the bio-fouling organisms that settle on the nets, which has even greater implications for improved water flow through the system.

In an effort to shift towards sustainability of operations, wrasse should be more heavily researched and if their benefits mirror the initial studies, their use as biological pesticides should be implemented in salmon farms as soon as possible.

Monday, November 1, 2010

MSc Module 3: Aquatic Animal Nutrition and Food Safety

The last two weeks were spent learning about aquatic animal nutrition, as well as several key aspects of food safety that are important to the aquaculture industry. 

The first few days we covered all the different aspects of live feed, specifically how to grow zooplankton and microalgae to feed to juvenile fish that are not developed enough to eat an artificial pellet diet.  Janet Brown lectured on zooplankton culture, while Ian Laing covered microalgae.  Both of these subjects involved practicals: in one, we hatched Artmeia (brine shrimp- more commonly known as ‘sea monkeys’) using industry methods to learn how this process is completed at the commercial level.  In the other, we formulated and mixed an algae culture medium and grew a new population of algal cells.  Both practicals gave us invaluable hands-on experience with these vital techniques.

On Thursday we received lectures from Gordon Bell, whose lessons dealt with the fascinating concept of replacing fishmeal and fish oil in aquafeeds with vegetable products.  We learned that while this practice is much more sustainable for the industry, the nutrient and fatty acid profile of the final fish product decreases dramatically, and a great deal more work needs to be done in this area.  However, once mastered, this technique has the potential to allow aquaculture to be a net marine protein producer, a concept that is considered a “Holy Grail’ within the industry!

The remainder of the first week and the entire second week was spent with Kim Jauncey, who covered a broad range of topics, including nutrient requirements, feed formulations, feed processing, broodstock nutrition, food safety, and nutritional pathology.  Overall the material was very thorough and gave a comprehensive overview of the nutritional factors to consider in any given aquaculture operation.

The module finished with a short exam, followed by a trip to the EWOS Feed Processing Plant, where pelleted fish food is made.  EWOS is one of the largest aquafeed manufacturing companies in the world, specializing in salmon feeds.  After learning about this procedure and the challenges associated with aquatic nutrition, it was fascinating to see it all put into practice (although I can’t say I enjoyed the smell!).

The next module is Genetics and Reproduction, which is not a subject that I am particularly fond of, but nonetheless is vital to understanding the foundations of sustainability within the industry.    

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Natural Growth Promoters in Fish

Saponins are naturally-occurring defense compounds produced in some species of plant, and while most nutritionists off the top of their head would tell you that feeding them to fish is probably a bad idea, new evidence has suggested otherwise.  Recent experiments have found that cultured carp and tilapia fed a small level of saponins in their diet experienced increased growth rates and lower oxygen demands than fish fed a normal diet.  Upon closer examination, it was concluded that saponins help the digestive tract of the fish take up dietary components, as well as stimulate the activity of digestive enzymes: both of these effects lead to an increase in feed utilization and efficiency of uptake, and thus better growth rates.

This has some massive implications for the aquaculture industry: the use of synthetic growth promoters such as antibiotics or steroid hormones is experiencing more and more resistance from consumers and industry alike, and rightly so.  These compounds are not natural and their effects on the fish (and the people who eat that fish) are still being studied.  However, saponins are natural, plant-based, renewable compounds, making them a seemingly more healthy and sustainable option for a feed additive.  

Sunday, October 17, 2010

‘Four Fish’: A Crash Course in Sustainability

I recently finished reading Paul Greenberg’s ‘Four Fish’, a book that looks at four of the main fish species in the human diet and analyzes them from a historical, economic, and sustainable perspective. In addition to being a great read, the book made some important points as to the future directions that we should be taking regarding these species.

The fish covered are salmon, bass, cod, and tuna. Greenberg delves into the fishing history of these species and shows how each one is closely tied to human diets and economies. He then discusses their future prospects with respect to continued fishing as well as aquaculture.

Essentially, his message is clear: we are fishing these animals too heavily, and we need to rely more on farming. However, he accurately points out that, like current fishing pressures, many current farming practices are also unsustainable. He calls for a revamping of the aquaculture industry by such methods as farming fish that have lower feed conversion ratios, as well as adopting more sustainable management practices such as polyculture.

Overall, this is a must-read book for anyone interested in the future of seafood!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

MSc Module 2: Aquatic Animals and the Environment

The second two-week module in the Sustainable Aquaculture MSc program at Stirling was titled ‘Aquatic Animals and the Environment’. It covered the different environments where aquaculture is carried out, with a focus on physio-chemical processes, community structure and function, and environmental impacts and remediation.

The first two days of the module were lectures given by Trevor Telfer on a variety of different topics, including inland and marine systems, the basics of environmental impact, and different factors affecting water quality. These lectures were given to prepare our class for our first field exercise, which was a site visit to Howietoun Fish Farm (see previous blog article). There, we conducted experiments and took water samples to analyze the impacts that the farm was having on the environment.

This analysis took place on Thursday, when we spent the entire day in the laboratory. In the morning, we analyzed the water samples for a number of different parameters, including alkalinity, conductivity, nutrients levels, and suspended solids. The results of this chemical analysis helped us to determine the overall water quality at different locations around the farm, which in turn allowed us to comment on the environmental impact of the facility. In the afternoon, we analyzed the biological samples, identifying plankton in water samples and going through sediment to find and identify different invertebrates.

The second week was spent in the field at Campbeltown (see previous blog article). There we completed an in-field exercise in aquaculture site selection, taking into account all the different factors that affect the decision of where to put a fish farm and what to grow there. This experience was invaluable, as we were given the opportunity to actually look around, test the water, and then make a decision and defend it. Plus, it was our first overnight trip and even though there was a lot of work, it was a blast!

Overall, I am greatly enjoying my experience here at Stirling, and I hope to continue learning as much as I have over the past month. The next module is Aquatic Animal Nutrition and Food Safety, and while there is no field work associated with this module, it should still provide interesting and valuable.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

4-Day Field Exercise: Aquaculture Potential of Campbeltown Loch

Salmon farm in Loch Fyne
This week our MSc class loaded onto two minibuses and drove 4 hours from Stirling to Campbeltown Loch, a small bay on the west coast of Scotland. There, we conducted a field exercise in aquaculture site selection, attempting to take all the different biological, environmental, and social factors into account and select an appropriate fish farming site within the loch.

On the drive up on Monday, we visited a commercial salmon farm in Loch Fyne. At this facility, state-of-the-art underwater cameras are used to monitor the fish during feeding: a computer program monitors the fish and recognizes uneaten food pellets falling past the camera. When this occurs, the computer automatically shuts off the feeders, preventing the release the excess food and minimizing the environmental and economic loss associated with this problem.

On Tuesday, we split into small groups to conduct field work in the morning. We went out on the loch in boats to take water and sediment samples, as well as monitor the currents using drogues and GPS positioning equipment. Additionally, we toured the coastal town to discuss the social impacts of an aquaculture site on the local economy. The objective of the exercise was to distill the information gathered and select a site within the loch for an aquaculture venture. In our groups, we were to select a site, choose a species to farm, and then defend our decisions in front of the class and our professors. This group work, and the resulting presentation, was done on Wednesday.

Tuesday afternoon we were given the opportunity to tour the Machrihanish Fish Farm, another commercial and research facility owned and operated by the University of Stirling. Here, we saw their revolutionary wrasse program, where they are growing cleaner wrasse to be used as biological pesticides of sea lice in salmon cages. The wrasse eat the lice directly off the salmon, reducing the need for chemicals in the environment. Additionally, there is some evidence to suggest that the wrasse eat bio-fouling organisms off the nets, adding an additional level of value to their use!

Loch Fyne Oyster Farm
Thursday we returned to Stirling, but on the way stopped at a salmon hatchery, as well as an oyster and mussel farm. These visits were very enlightening, and gave us some exposure to the wider aspects of the aquaculture industry in Scotland.

Overall, the trip was incredibly valuable, as this was a real-world scenario and we were given direct access to the site. We discovered that it is difficult to balance all the factors involved in site selection, but in the end the six different groups all produced six different viable ventures!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Site Visit: Howietoun Fish Farm

This week our MSc class got the opportunity to visit Howietoun Fish Farm, a commercial and research facility owned and operated by the Institute of Aquaculture. At this site, there is a hatchery for brown trout (Salmo trutta) and Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), as well as a smolting unit for salmon and a fishery for brown trout.

This visit was during our module on ‘Aquaculture and the Environment’, and as such our focus was on the environmental impacts associated with the fish farm. The facility is fed from a stream that runs through the area, and so we started by looking at the entire catchment to help determine the quality of water running into the farm. We then visited the farm itself, touring all three units in detail.

We took water samples to analyze for different water quality parameters, as well as measurements of the physical characteristics of the water (dissolved oxygen, temperature, and oxygen saturation). Additionally, we took biological samples in the forms of plankton tows, kick samples, and sediment grabs. All this data will be synthesized back at the Institute and the assessment for this module will be based on a group presentation, as well as individual reports, focusing on this information.

The tour started in the hatchery, were we covered spawning techniques and egg husbandry for both brown trout and Atlantic salmon. We then moved to the smolting unit, where salmon are prepared to make the transition from the freshwater they were born in to the saltwater where they will spend a majority of their lives. Finally, we visited the fishery for brown trout, where the fish are kept in large earthen ponds until they reach a size suitable for stocking sportfishing waters.

It was a very interesting tour, and it was really cool to see some of the practices we have discussed in class put into action. It will also be interesting to work up the samples that we obtained, as that is the only way to determine what sort of impacts the operation is having on the surrounding environment.

MSc Module 1: Aquatic Animal Biology and Health

The first two-week module of the Sustainable Aquaculture MSc course at the University of Stirling was titled ‘Aquatic Animal Biology and Health’. This was designed to introduce the overall physiology, as well as some of the common diseases, of a variety of cultured organisms.

Professor Lindsay Ross kicked off the first two days of the module: Monday consisted of lectures covering evolution and classification of fishes, husbandry, respiration, excretion, and osmoregulation. The next morning found us in the laboratory doing a practical on comparative structure and function in three different finfish: brown trout (Salmo), catfish (Clarius), and tilapia (Oreochromis). Full dissections were done for each specimen, and we discussed how the different structures served different functions in each. Wednesday we were given lectures on molluscan biology by Trevor Telfer, and Thursday we covered crustaceans with Janet Brown in the morning and then conducted another practical on the Dublin bay prawn (Nephrops) in the afternoon. Friday we were given an overview lecture of shrimp farming, and then we were back in the lab, doing dissections of mussels (Mytilus), scallops (Pectin), and oysters (Crassostrea).
The second week was devoted to health and diseases of aquatic organisms, and it started off with Jimmy Turbull lecturing on parasitic, bacterial, and fungal diseases in fish. Tuesday we covered viral diseases in lecture, then went to the lab to practice sampling techniques for different types of disease diagnosis. Wednesday we continued with these practical sessions, working on bacteriological, viral, and histological methods. Thursday we received lectures on different pathogen identification tests, as well as public health as it relates to aquaculture. Friday morning we were given the opportunity to tour the facilities at the Institute of Aquaculture, covering virology, bacteriology, histology, and the Institute’s microscopy facilities, which include both a scanning electron microscope (SEM) and a transmission electron microscope (TEM).

Overall, the module was very in depth and served as a solid foundation to bring everyone in the class up to speed. Many of the students are not biologists, and it is obviously very important for them to understand this material. I found the physiology section to be a great refresher of material I have previously learned, but I have never been exposed to the disease side of things, and it was very interesting to learn about.

The next module is Aquaculture and the Environment, which I am very much looking forward to!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

MSc Program Thus Far...

I have been a student in the Sustainable Aquaculture MSc program at the University of Stirling for 3 weeks now, and I couldn’t be happier with my experiences here!

First off, Scotland is AMAZING! It is a beautiful country, rich with history, and the people here are a lot of fun. Stirling is located at the edge of the Scottish Highlands, just between Edinburgh and Glasgow, making it ideally situated for travel, yet far enough removed to avoid the distractions of a big city.

I am studying in the Institute of Aquaculture, a world-class teaching and research facility. The MSc program operates in 2-week modules: we take one class for two weeks, then move on to the next subject. We just concluded out first module, titled “Aquatic Animal Biology and Health”, which covered the fundamentals of physiology and disease for commercially-important aquaculture species.

Each module has its own assessment, allowing us to focus entirely on that specific subject during the two weeks. Once that assessment is submitted on the last day of the module, we have a much-needed break for the weekend before the next subject starts.

The program consists of 30 students, with a record-breaking 22 countries represented!! It is incredible to sit and speak with so many people from so many different countries because it is offering me a comprehensive, globalized view of aquaculture. Students talk about the species and operations in their home countries, as well as the successes and challenges that will face them when they return home after the program. And everyone has a different amount of experience: some students studied engineering and have never been to fish farm, while others are fish farm managers back home!

All in all it is an incredible opportunity for me to be studying here, and I am blown away by the high calibre of education that I am receiving. I am looking forward to continuing to work hard, and I hope that through my time here I will achieve the knowledge and skills necessary to make a positive impact in the field of aquaculture.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The University of Stirling (Scotland)- MSc in Sustainable Aquaculture Business Management

In September 2010, I will have the incredible opportunity to undertake a Masters program at the University of Stirling in Scotland. One of the principal reasons that I chose this school was their Institute of Aquaculture, one of the leading centres for aquaculture research in the world. During the 11-month program, I will be studying under some big players in the aquaculture industry, and (if all goes according to plan!) I will graduate in 2011 with a Masters of Science in Sustainable Aquaculture Business Management.

I spent an exchange term in 2007 studying at Stirling, and I am very excited to return in a few short months. The previous experience that I had while learning at the Institute of Aquaculture was absolutely invaluable, which is helping to fuel my excitement for this Masters program: the professors are world-class, the facilities are state-of-the-art, and the students are genuinely passionate about getting involved with this industry and changing it for the better.

I hope to pursue a specialization in Business Management, as I believe that economic incentives will be the quickest and most effective way to get producers to make operational changes to improve environmental sustainability. There are several different production methods that are considerably more sustainable than conventional sea-pen farming, namely recirculation and polyculture. However, these methods are MUCH more expensive, both in initial capital investment, as well as expertise when it comes to set-up and management.

That is where the economics comes in: I believe that as time goes on and populations further develop a deeper concern for the environment, consumers will be willing to pay more for a product they are certain is grown in a sustainable manner. The main question is: HOW MUCH MORE ARE THEY WILLING TO PAY?? If the market will only support a 20% price increase between conventional (ie. open net-pen salmon) and sustainable (polyculture) farmed seafood, and it will cost 30% more to switch from conventional to sustainable farming methods, there is NO incentive for the farmer to switch (other than a sense of environmental responsibility, which most likely will not be enough). If, however, the increase in profit from sustainably-farmed products outweighs the costs of switching production, then the farmer now has both an environmental AND an economic incentive to switch over. THIS is how we will increase the sustainability of the industry, and THIS is how I want to focus my energies.

Monday, March 22, 2010

3-Day Fish Farm Tour of Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Over the past weekend I was given the opportunity to go on a multi-day tour of several fish farms around Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. Over the course of three days, we visited a scallop farm, an oyster farm, a salmon farm, a processing plant, and a unique research facility which will be discussed later.

The trip was organized as a class field trip for an aquaculture course that I am currently taking at the University of Victoria. Seven students including myself left from UVic on Thursday morning to drive up the highway to Island Scallops, the first stop on our tour. There, the hatchery manager gave us a guided tour, showing us how their operation raises scallops from fertilization all the way to market size. Next, we drove to Deep Bay where we were given a tour of a floating upwelling (FLUPSY) hatchery system, as well as grow-out facilities for oysters. The owner of the company then showed us his processing areas and concluded the tour with several oysters on the half-shell for each of us!
Cyrus Rocks- Marine Harvest Canada
After an overnight in Courtenay, the whole class rose early and drove to Campbell River, where we boarded a boat that ferried us out to Cyrus Rocks, a salmon farm owned and operated by the Norwegian company Marine Harvest. There, the production crews gave us a comprehensive view of salmon farming as an industry, as well as covered daily operations; we left with some food for thought regarding the public perception of this controversial industry and the role of propaganda and misinformation.

Walcan Processing Centre- Quadra Island

Next, we visited the Walcan Processing Plant on Quadra Island, where we saw farmed salmon being processed for market. We observed filleting, as well as whole-fish preparation: this was the closest thing to a slaughterhouse that I have ever seen, but it was fascinating to see the balance of machinery and man-power. This processing plant was highly efficient: fish left the facility on ice, ready to be transported to market, less then 5 minutes after entering the building.

After a long drive from Campbell River, we reached our destination for the evening: Kyuquot Sound. There, our professor from the course owns and operates a research facility unlike any other. This system utilizes “Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture” (IMTA), a practice of growing several different species in one location. For example, our professor grew sablefish in net-pens, with scallops and mussels downstream from the fish, and finally kelps downstream from the shellfish. In this way, the particulate nutrients released by the fish are taken up by the shellfish, and the dissolved nutrients from both can be taken up by the kelps. Essentially, the manager does not perceive the nutrients as ‘waste’ but rather as an additional ‘resource’ that can be utilized to bring several other commercially-valuable species to market.

All in all, this trip was an invaluable education into the aquaculture activities happening in my own backyard. With the exposure to these facilities and operations, I can now begin to gain a better understanding of possible future endeavors in this region of the world, both for the industry and for myself.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Champion of Urban Aquaculture: Dr. Martin Schreibman, Brooklyn College, New York

Immediately after the conclusion of the Cornell Aquaculture short-course, I flew to New York City for the last few days of my three-month adventure (Israel, Maine, New York). The purpose of my stay in NYC was two-fold: I would get some much-needed R&R in one of the greatest cities in the world, PLUS I would have the opportunity to meet and chat with a leading recirculation scientist in his lab at Brooklyn College.

Dr. Martin Schreibman has been working with recirculation systems for many years, yet what makes his work so intriguing is a number of points:

1) He is interested in “urban aquaculture”, namely growing fish on a small scale in metropolitan settings
2) He is also exploring the role of hydroponics, or growing plants in the same system as the fish; in this way, the fish waste provides the nutrient fertilizer for the plants’ growth.

A number of years ago, Dr. Schreibman help found the Aquatic Research and Environmental Assessment Center (AREAC) at Brooklyn College so that he and many other researchers would have a Centre at which to conduct all their work. Given that the human race is becoming more environmentally-conscious, Dr. Schreibman’s work operating these small-scale, environmentally-friendly food production systems will be of vital importance in the coming years.

During my meeting with Schreibman, we sat in his office and spoke at length about challenges and future directions of the industry, as well as where his research fit into the “big picture”. He was a passionate man who clearly loved his work, and his enthusiasm was contagious!

His research focused mainly on tilapia, growing them in the recirculation systems I had been learning about for the past two weeks. Yet as I mentioned before, these were all very small-scale, each one producing no more than a couple hundreds pounds of tilapia. Plus the introduction of plants into the system seemed to be working: both fish and plant appeared happy and healthy, and the water in each tank looked crystal clear due to the help of the natural filtration.

All in all we spent about three hours together, and let me assure you that it was an illuminating three hours! I have been in touch with Dr. Schreibman since we met in August 2009, and I truly hope that we are able to continue our professional relationship into the future. He is an invaluable industry contact, but perhaps more importantly he is a high-calibre man who is concerned with the future and is willing to pass on his knowledge and expertise to the next generation.

Check out this YouTube video for more information: Dr. Martin Schreibman- Urban Aquaculture

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Aquaculture Short-Course: Cornell University

Directly after the short-course in Bar Harbor, Maine, I flew to Ithaca, New York to attend the second of the two courses on recirculating aquaculture systems. This course was offered by the Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering at Cornell University. It was taught by Drs. Mike Timmons and James Ebeling, who, along with Summerfelt and Vinci at the Freshwater Institute, are some of the leading aquaculture recirculation experts in the world.

I landed in Ithaca on Sunday afternoon and was planning to retire to the hotel room that I had booked. Instead, I was met at the airport by an old friend who attends Cornell and was taking courses there over the summer. I hadn’t seen him in a long time, and we spent the afternoon and evening catching up and sharing stories (I had just returned from Israel only one week ago!). He insisted that I cancel my reservation at the hotel and crash at his new house, on which the lease had already started but he and his roommates had not moved into yet. This house was literally across the street from campus, so I not only saved money but also a great deal of time by staying there!

The course started early on Monday morning, and immediately I felt a difference from the course in Bar Harbor. While the Freshwater Institute’s course was very formal and professional, this Cornell course felt much more relaxed and fun. The professors laughed and joked around a lot more, which I personally found to be a more effective style of teaching.

The students were again composed of professionals in the field, yet those in attendance at this course represented a much more globalized and international picture. There were professionals from Germany, Japan, Canada, Thailand, and Spain in attendance, which allowed all of us the opportunity to meet and mingle with a very eclectic group of people. We were able to share ideas and suggestions, and some of the conversations that I had with a few of the internationals were invaluable.

The course material was essentially the same as the one in Bar Harbor, considering that it used the same text (which was written by Timmons and Ebeling, the guys teaching the course!). However, as I mentioned, the approach was drastically different, and to be honest I took more away from this course than I did from the one in Maine. This WAS the second time in two weeks that I was exposed to the same material, which may have played a role in the larger amount of absorption.

Overall, I was very pleased to have had the opportunity to attend this course. Now that I have experienced them both, if I had to go back and only attend one, I would have chosen the Cornell course, as I found it to be a more efficient use of my time and resources. I formed much stronger friendships during this course than during the Bar Harbor course, in addition to learning more and feeling more comfortable with the material. I would strongly recommend this experience to anyone who would like more exposure to recirculating aquaculture systems and their design and implementation as it relates to the industry.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Site Visits to Aquaculture Research Facilities in Maine

The USDA National Cold Water Marine Aquaculture Centre
During the Bar Harbor course, we were given the opportunity to visit two different aquaculture research facilities in the state of Maine. The first was the USDA National Cold Water Marine Aquaculture Center (NCWMAC). The second was the Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research, operated by the University of Maine.

We visited NCWMAC first, driving almost an hour by bus from Bar Harbor. There, we met with the Director of the Center, a man named Bill Wolters. He gave a brief overview of the research conducted at the Center, then guided us on a tour of the facility. Because it was a recirculating system (we went to the Center to get a first-hand look at the systems we were studying in the course), biosecurity was a must: any direct contact with the fish or the water was strictly forbidden. Once a pathogen gets into the system, the effects could be devastating for the entire facility.

We had to dress in white overalls and make sure to keep our hands in our pockets. There were foot baths and hand sanitation stations in front of every doorway, and we were instructed to use these biosecurity measures at every point.

Bill gave us a tour of his facility, which consisted of a hatchery, juvenile-rearing area, and an on-growing area. Each room had its own separate system, allowing any given room to be isolated and operate independently of the others; this is vital in the event of a contamination.

The facility was very impressive, but seemed to be a bit “over-the-top”. This type of facility was perfect for research, but not viable on a commercial scale: it was simply too expensive and high-tech to be able to operate for profit. However, it was great to see the systems first-hand and be able to apply what we had learned in the classroom to the real world.

A few days later we traveled to the Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research, which happened to be located on the same grounds as NCWMAC. This was a much smaller facility, operated as a satellite research station by the University of Maine. Here, researchers and students from the university could run aquaculture-related experiments for the betterment of the industry as a whole.

Here we were given a tour by Nick Brown, the Director of the Center. He showed us the incredible work his Center was doing with halibut breeding: we got a first-hand look at their halibut broodstock and WOW, are those guys big!! Their largest fish was a 150-lb female, who they had lovingly nicknamed ‘Wanda’.

This facility was not as impressive as NCWMAC, but it seemed much more practical on a financial scale. Because they were funded by the government, NCWMAC had spared no expense in their construction, whereas for this Center, funding was obviously an issue. However, they still had the infrastructure and recirculation systems to run all different kinds of valuable experiments.

Both of these trips provided a hands-on perspective of the recirculation systems that we were currently learning about. Being able to touch and see (and even smell!) these systems made them come alive for all of us, and it was a definite perk that not many people have to opportunity to experience.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

'Water Re-Use for Intensive Fish Culture' Short-Course: Bar Harbor, Maine

In the summer of 2009 I had the opportunity to attend two different aquaculture short-courses, weeklong seminars given by professionals and researchers in the aquaculture world. The first of these courses was offered by The Conservation Fund’s Freshwater Institute over a week in early July.

Though the Freshwater Institute is located in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, the course was held in Bar Harbor, Maine, a cozy and quaint new England town of about 5000 people. However, during the summer months, Bar Harbor swells with the influx of tourists, flocking to the area to take in the beautiful scenery or cozy village life.

I arrived in Bar Harbor on a Friday even though the course did not start until Monday. I had just returned to the States from my travels in Israel, and even after a day of recuperation in a hotel room in New York City, I wanted a few extra days to get over the jet lag and take in the sights.

Upon my arrival in Bar Harbor, I put my belongings in my hotel room and caught one of the free community buses into the City Centre. I was impressed by the cleanliness and hospitality of the town, and I was greatly looking forward to spending some time in this beautiful place while I learned about aquaculture.

The courses themselves focused on in-land, recirculating systems: their design, maintenance, and operation. Personally, I am fascinated by these recirculation systems, as they may provide a more sustainable and environmentally-friendly approach to fish farming.

The course was team-taught by several members of the Freshwater Institute, including Drs. Steve Summerfelt and Brian Vinci, two of the leading researchers in the field of recirculation. Both of these men, along with another two individuals from the Institute, spent approx. eight hours with us every day, exposing the students to all the different facets and challenges of this incredible technology.

The other students in the course were professionals in the field, mostly managers of fish hatcheries that wanted to learn more about the technology that they were utilizing every day. I was by far the youngest attendant, and when it became clear that I was not yet in the field but rather preparing for my entry, I became something of a celebrity. People were fascinated by what I had already accomplished at such a young age, and I received a great deal of praise for taking the initiative to create change in a struggling industry.

Overall, the lessons that I learned during my time in Bar Harbor were vital to my ultimate success in this field. I made several invaluable industry contacts while there, as well as formed several friendships that I hope will continue well into the future.