UMaine hosts the international salmon RAS event
During the conference, held Sept. 27-29, scientists, communicators, and educators shared information and explored current challenges in land-based Atlantic salmon production in the United States. They also learned about new technologies, outreach strategies and cutting-edge research through presentations, panel discussions and field trips.
Members of industry and researchers working in recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) – a method of farming salmon and other species where water is pumped through treatment systems that clean and refilter circulating water – discussed a wide range of topics, such as seed stocks, health and welfare, bad taste, animal feed, workforce development, education and marketing of consumers, community engagement and challenges encountered within the industry.
The different panels showcased the expertise of the different stakeholders who participated in the conference, which demonstrated collaboration and networking in several areas related to recirculating aquaculture systems. The main themes of their discussions included scalability, improving efficiency and regulation, and improving general knowledge and understanding.
“Using genomics and metabolomics, we are learning more about egg quality and developing non-invasive predictors of broodstock quality that are scalable, rapid, and inexpensive,” Heather Hamlin, director of the UMaine School of Marine Sciences and joint faculty member with the Aquaculture Research Institute, said during a session on seed stocks.
Researching and developing a domestic seed supply would be extremely beneficial to the United States as recirculating aquaculture systems grow in popularity as most current seed stocks are sourced overseas. Similarly, studies on tackling bad taste – created when bacteria-like streptomyces produce compounds such as geosmin through metabolism that are taken up by the gills of fish – and more effective foods illustrate the positive direction that takes research on recirculating aquaculture systems.
John Davidson, a researcher at the Freshwater Institute of West Virginia, discussed studies focusing on the biological mechanisms for characterizing and controlling microbiomes in recirculating aquaculture systems to reduce off-taste, in addition advanced chemical application and new advanced oxidation techniques. Sarah Cook from Skretting, the world’s largest fish feed producer, discussed the physical aspects of feed impacts on recirculating aquaculture systems as a whole.
“It’s important to look at each individual system and work with farms to understand how their system works best because all systems are so different,” Cook said.
The conference also focused on community engagement, understanding social license to operate, and workforce development.
“Standards or competency development is needed at the national level,” said Scarlet Tudor, education and outreach coordinator at UMaine’s Aquaculture Research Institute. “We need people with different backgrounds and backgrounds and we need to get them started young.”
Installing recirculating aquaculture systems in classrooms and developing modules for aquaculture curriculum with integration of technology and hands-on science could increase science literacy and skills in students, training them for future workforce needs.
The conference sessions also emphasized that the successful development of educational programs and materials on recirculating aquaculture systems should incorporate traditional ecological knowledge and engage with Indigenous knowledge sharers. The co-creation of a curriculum through the Wabanaki Youth in Science Program (WaYs) is an example of how to provide young people with an education other than Western science, to improve and decompartmentalize their perspectives. Through WaYs, Native Maine youth in grades 6-12 have the opportunity to participate in science while engaging with their cultural heritage through summer camps, internships, and after-school programs.
Additionally, the sessions highlighted the need for a coordinated communications strategy to elevate and assist social capital, interest, technology transfer, research advancement, and the involvement of people from multiple disciplines in the workforce.
The conference culminated with Emily Whitmore, PhD student at the University of New Hampshire, who discussed the importance of community engagement.
“The relational elements between a business and a host community are critical,” Whitmore said. “Consulting, building trust and gaining support instead of refuting opposition will set you up for success.
King Fish USA, for example, initially faced opposition but implemented social license work garnering continued community approval and it paid off. The town of Jonesport rejected a moratorium on aquaculture earlier this summer.
RAS-N started in 2019 with funding from the National Sea Grant Office for a three-year effort to build capacity and identify and address challenges. The multi-state consortium, led by partners in Maine, Maryland, and Wisconsin, is now moving into a new phase, SAS2, with $10 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Institute of USDA Food and Agriculture. This new phase aims to raise public awareness and strengthen the economic and environmental sustainability of the industry.
“RAS (recirculating aquaculture systems) are the most viable growth path in the United States,” said Erik Heim of Xcelerate Aqua. “Improving time to market, keeping revenues on schedule, costs on budget and improving environmental management are key.”