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.

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