Six Great Lakes Sea Grant programs have been awarded $1 million to work together on a three-year project to increase aquaculture production and sales in the region.
The Great Lakes Aquaculture Collaborative is one of 42 research projects and collaborative programs totaling $16 million aimed at advancing sustainable aquaculture in the United States funded by the National Sea Grant Office. The awards are dependent on the availability of federal funds.
Despite the fact that the Great Lakes comprise one of world’s largest freshwater ecosystems, aquaculture production in the region is failing to keep pace with increases in consumer demand for fish and seafood. This contributes to a national seafood trade deficit of $14 billion, second only to oil in the ranking of natural resource trade deficits.
“Through the Great Lakes Aquaculture Collaborative, our goal is to lay the foundation for an environmentally responsible, competitive and sustainable aquaculture industry,” said Stuart Carlton, IISG assistant director. “And from the consumer perspective, to provide more opportunities to buy locally raised protein in the form of farm-raised fish.”
Minnesota Sea Grant will lead the collaborative, and for its part, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG) will explore perceived barriers to successful aquaculture operations in the Great Lakes region. Amy Shambach, IISG aquaculture marketing outreach associate, will interview producers, food distributors, grocers, restauranteurs and other key players to provide insights that inform efforts to improve aquaculture production and marketing.
“It is vital to the growth of the aquaculture industry in the Great Lakes region to not only assess the industry’s needs but to then get that information into the hands of farmers,” said Shambach.
The Great Lakes Aquaculture Collaborative is funded by National Sea Grant’s Advanced Aquaculture Collaborative Program. This program seeks to build the capacity of Sea Grant and its partners to advance aquaculture in areas where a foundation of knowledge and activity currently exists but where significant barriers to sustainable domestic marine and Great Lakes aquaculture remain.
“These investments are critical to advancing United States aquaculture in sustainable, thoughtful ways using the best science and talent across the country,” said National Sea Grant Director Jonathan Pennock. “With our 2019 investments, we can address critical gaps in information, understanding and connectivity of science to industry.”
IISG was also awarded a second grant to study challenges to raising walleye in aquaculture production. “Walleye has a local identity—it has a strong association with the Midwest, is available in restaurants as a commercially caught species, and may be suitable for aquaculture,” said Kwamena Quagrainie, IISG aquaculture marketing specialist.
Currently farm-raised walleye in Illinois and Indiana is minimal. Quagrainie, along with Carlton and Purdue University researchers Robert Rode and Joseph Balagtas, are leading a working group that aims to understand the business and real-world production barriers to raising these fish in an economically sustainable manner. National Sea Grant awarded them $96,000 to find answers.
“There is reason to believe that walleye aquaculture could be a boon in the two states, but a lot of background work needs to be done to see if it is even feasible,” added Quagrainie.
Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is a part of University of Illinois Extension and Purdue Extension.
Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG) is excited to announce the funding of five new Discovery Projects. These small, one-year projects help researchers achieve bigger and better things, such as larger grants to study critical questions, providing proof of concepts that can be scaled up to support labs or businesses, or generating tools to help communities make the best use of available information. The five projects IISG began funding in 2018 address aquaculture, aquatic invasive species and pollution.
“These five new research projects are asking questions that are highly relevant to aquatic systems in Illinois, Indiana, Lake Michigan and the broader Great Lakes region,” said IISG Director Tomas Höök. “We have great hopes that these Discovery Projects will indeed springboard their principal investigators to other opportunities and outcomes.”
Aquaculture Karolina Kwasek of Southern Illinois University-Carbondale will explore whether invasive Asian carp could be used to feed very young largemouth bass raised in aquaculture facilities. Largemouth bass are a popular species across the country, but their high protein requirements make them tricky to rear. Kwasek hopes this novel use of Asian carp may support aquaculture growers who wish to raise largemouth bass.
Invasive Species Eric Larson of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will use a relatively new concept, that of an avatar species, to predict where a new invasive species might establish. He will use the red swamp crayfish, which is already found in the Great Lakes basin, as an avatar to predict where another potential invader, Chelaxdestructor, might successfully establish. If successful, this method could potentially be applied to other potential invaders, including fish, aquatic plants, and other macroinvertebrates.
Pollution Jen Fisher of Indiana University Northwest will investigate whether pollution from failing septic systems might be affecting microbial communities on beach sand, ultimately posing a risk to human health. Her work will be focused in northeast Indiana.
An Li of the University of Illinois at Chicago will assess presence of microplastics in Lake Michigan sediments using samples that have been previously collected and analyzed for other contaminants. Through this work, she hopes to generate protocols that can be applied to sediments in any aquatic system.
John Scott of the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center will examine whether microplastics help introduce per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) to the lower levels of aquatic food webs. His timely work has the potential to affect fish consumption advisories, if it seems likely that PFAS can be transferred up the food web.
Aquaculture and aquaponics operations in Illinois and Indiana produce a wide variety of high-value seafood and vegetable products. Despite this, the vast majority of local chefs and restaurants are unaware that these products are being produced locally, so they still rely on frozen or fresh processed seafood, according to Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant Aquaculture Specialist Andrew Coursey.
Coursey wants that to change. Aquaculture operations in Indiana produce large quantities of food fish, and these products are then shipped to large metropolitan areas with live fish markets. “The farm-raised seafood market is established and successful,” said Coursey, “but it’s not connecting these aquaculture products to local markets where there could be high demand.”
This summer, Coursey conducted a tour of aquaculture facilities with 16 representatives from Purdue University Hospitality and Tourism Management, Purdue Dining and Catering, and local restaurants from the Lafayette, Indiana, area. The tour was used to educate chefs and dining executives on how fish and vegetables are produced using aquaculture and aquaponics practices, and to showcase high quality products that are produced locally.
Bob Rode, aquaculture research lab manager for the Purdue University Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, takes a close look at the biofilters at Meador Farms in Cutler, Indiana. Recirculating aquaculture systems require the breakdown of waste products produced by fish (toxic ammonia) into non-toxic ammonia nitrate by culturing nitrifying bacteria in a biofilter, which provides an ideal environment for bacterial growth. (Photo: Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant/Andrew Coursey)
The group visited three local aquaculture facilities to see tilapia, barramundi, largemouth bass, Pacific white shrimp, red claw crayfish and aquaponics products operations. They then gathered at the Purdue Animal Sciences Research and Education Center for presentations by producers, aquaculture discussions, and a question and answer session. Representatives from producers throughout the state were in attendance, including White Creek Farms of Indiana, Falling Waters Farm, Sweetwater Springs Fish Farm, RDM Shrimp, Tippco Fish and Meador Farms.
Producer presentations covered a range of topics, including aquaponics, rainbow trout, tilapia, barramundi, largemouth bass, and hybrid striped bass. “Great discussions about recirculating aquaculture, aquaponics and fish processing occurred during this meeting and were beneficial to all groups in attendance,” said Coursey.
Aquaculture is the fastest growing food production industry in the world and a major industry in the United States, and aquaponics is also gaining traction. Aquaponics combines farming fish with growing plants hydroponically. Water is used in a closed system for producing both.
The tour was meant to connect food buyers and chefs with producers, educate chefs and producers about aquaculture and aquaponics, and generate interest in purchasing from local processing facilities. Presentations and aquaculture site visits provided information to both chefs and food buyers, while subsequent discussions allowed chefs to provide feedback to producers that will help them better market aquaculture products locally.
While Illinois sits along one of the world’s largest freshwater resources, an ocean is closer than you might think. Look down. About 540 million years ago, the state was situated at the equator and was the site of an ancient sea. As land shifted over time, this saltwater became trapped in aquifers that still exist underground today.
Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant-funded researchers, thinking outside the box, wondered if this buried saltwater might play a role in producing seafood in the region. Their study revealed that Illinois may in fact, be an environmentally-sustainable and economically-viable location for production of marine fish. They focused on striped bass, a popular and adaptable fish that can be grown in a range of salinities.
Currently, the U.S. imports 86 percent of its seafood leading to a $10 billion trade deficit. “It is not surprising that interest in commercial aquaculture production in the marine environment has increased,” said Srirupa Ganguly, an engineer from the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC). She was joined in this project by Nandakishore Rajagopalan, also at ISTC, and Kwamena Quagrainie, IISG’s aquaculture marketing specialist, located at Purdue University.
The team assessed the competitive advantages of raising this fish in the Midwest using local saline water resources. These sources include saline aquifers, with much of this water brought to the surface regularly in oil and gas drilling, but also water generated from coal processing and other industries.
“It’s clear that Illinois has considerable quantities of saline water available to support the needs of a marine aquaculture industry,” said Rajagopalan. “The cost of obtaining these waters will depend on accessibility.”
Depending on the source of the saline water, it may come with additional contaminants and need treatment for use in aquaculture. But, does this water provide a suitable environment for raising striped bass? The researchers measured growth, weight gain, and other characteristics of striped bass grown in pre-treated saline aquifer water.
“Our preliminary study revealed that fish farmers could substitute potable surface water for saline groundwater for the culture of saltwater species like striped bass,” said Ganguly.
Finally, to assess the viability question from all sides, the researchers looked at what motivates consumers as they shop for seafood and their willingness to pay more for locally-raised fish.
“Our survey found that when it comes to decisions about purchasing seafood, freshness is key, so consumer are willing to pay $6.00 or more per pound for striped bass produced in the Midwest,” said Quagrainie. “There is also considerable interest in the culture of shrimp, and other marine species that are more profitable in the marketplace.”
You can read Quagrainie’s article on consumers’ willingness to pay for saline fish species raised in the Midwest in World Aquaculture Society.
Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is a part of University of Illinois Extension and Purdue University Extension.
Shrimp is the number one seafood consumed in the United States, and Indiana, of all places, is a leader in inland shrimp farming. One reason is that Kwamena Quagrainie, IISG aquaculture marketing specialist, is providing these producers with practical information on how to maximize their profits.
Quagrainie studied the economics of raising Pacific white shrimp indoors and found that turning a profit can depend on being a little patient.
“Because demand is high, the temptation is to sell smaller shrimp. But if the producers wait until the shrimp are bigger, they can charge more,” he said. “The value you can set by growing them to a larger size far out ways the cost.”
His study revealed that marine shrimp are more profitable if grown to at least 26–30-count per pound.
It also pays to wait until the shrimp are bigger before moving them from the nursery to the growing tank. This can help boost the survival rate.
Indiana has 11 shrimp farmers in the state who sell their product on-site directly to consumers or to nearby restaurants. “People are looking for food that is fresh and the shrimp market has benefited from the local foods movement,” said Quagrainie. Although, the majority of shrimp consumed in the U.S. is imported from farms in Southeast Asia, Ecuador, and Mexico.
The only member of the cod family to live solely in freshwater, the burbot is commonly described as a cross between a catfish and an eel. This benthic beast gets its name from the single whisker-like barbel hanging under its mouth.
But the burbot is known by many other names depending on where you go—like “the lawyer,” “lush,” “mud blower,” “eelpout,” and “poor man’s lobster,” to mention a few. Such diverse calling cards are not surprising. The burbot can be found all over the globe north of the 40th parallel, ranging from the United Kingdom to Asia, across northern Europe, as well as North America.
In the United States, populations span from Alaska to Delaware, in all the Great Lake basins, and as far south as Missouri and Kansas. It can be found primarily in deep and cold waters of almost any substrate—silt, mud, gravel, rubble, you name it. During winter it will migrate to shallower depths, (and brackish waters for some populations) to spawn underneath the ice. This is one of the strongest factors connecting the burbot to saltwater cod, which also spawns in winter.
The fins of the burbot are relatively small, indicative of a low tolerance to strong currents. This poses no issue in terms of predation, however, as its yellow-brown color and dark mottling act as a kind of camouflage, enabling it to ambush prey. A juvenile burbot eats mainly small crustaceans like water fleas and zooplankton, but as it matures, its diet becomes more adventurous and the burbot feasts almost solely on other fish, like northern pike, yellow perch, walleye, and trout. Some of those fish rival the burbot in size, and, as with the northern pike and some lamprey, also act as predators. This pescatarian proclivity combined with the burbot’s habit of eating fish eggs can make it a nuisance species in non-native waters.
Because of their voracious appetite, burbot are relatively easy to catch. Anglers will have the best chance of hooking one during the evening or at night, when burbot are most active. (During the day they will remain near the bottom of the waterbody to keep cool in rising water temperatures.) If caught, burbot has been known wrap around and cling to the body holding it—its small embedded scales making the burbot smooth and slimy to the touch.
When cooked, burbot can taste similar to American lobster (thus the nickname), and their liver and roe are considered delicacies in Finland. Even the liver itself presents something of a peculiarity, being about six times as large as the livers of other freshwater fish of similar size. It was once used as an alternative to cod liver oil, having about eight times the potency of vitamin D and vitamin A. This discovery was made some time in the 1920s, when Theodore H. Rowell, a druggist and conservationist, found that the pelts of the foxes he raised increased in quality after feeding them burbot.
Populations of burbot are difficult to study and manage due to the fact that they spawn under ice, and their small scales makes determining their age challenging.
Although some populations of burbot have been threatened or made extinct by pollution, invasive species, and damming, currently the burbot is listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as a species of least concern, with management being a low priority in most regions.
Imagine a way of farming fish with plants that has little to no impact on the environment—no runoff, soil loss, no need to even develop land. That’s aquaponics. And while it seems ideal, there’s a reason why current operations are small, few, and far between.
As its name suggests, aquaponics is a a combination of aquaculture and hydroponics. Like with hydroponics, plants are grown with their roots directly in water. But where hydroponics introduces necessary nutrients artificially, aquaponics takes advantage of a symbiotic relationship between aquatic animals, bacteria, and plants. Normally aquaculture tanks need to be filtered to prevent waste byproducts from reaching harmful levels, but with aquaponics, bacteria convert these byproducts into the necessary nutrients for healthy plant growth. The plants are fed, and the water is filtered.
But there’s one important problem. For an aquaponics operation to be successful, it has to turn a profit. Most operations occupy a niche market in urban centers where fresh fish and veggies are either expensive or hard to come by—the Virgin Islands, Tucson, Chicago, and St. Paul to name a few. Tilapia and basil are a typical combination—tilapia because they’re hardy and easy to grow, and basil because of its high value. But as hardy as tilapia is, it’s still a tropical fish, meaning operations in colder climates have to cope with high energy costs to keep water temperatures warm. And while basil may be a high-value plant, the profit margin is still slim. Some operations have sought to circumvent these high energy costs by resorting to yellow perch and lettuce, but to little avail.
Operations in warmer climates like the ones in Tuscon and the Virgin Islands tend to see more success than those farther from the equator. Higher average temperatures help maintain stability in systems that are inherently unstable, giving operators more leeway as they try to balance the water chemistry. And its this stability that’s key for an operation to be economically viable.
The issue of stability is tricky enough to work out on a small scale. But to be profitable, producers must attempt larger operations, complicating something that was fragile and complex to begin with. That’s the catch-22 of aquaponics. Producers are faced with two options: either have a working system and watch the operation go bankrupt, or go bankrupt figuring out how to make the system work. And until this dilemma is resolved, aquaponics will continue to struggle to break into the mainstream.
For more information on aquaponics, contact Kwamena Quagrainie. Interested producers can also learn about practices that can improve the chance of success in this video created in partnership with Purdue Extension.
A closer look at web tools and sites that boost research and empower Great Lakes communities to secure a healthy environment and economy. Aquaculture plays an increasingly vital role in securing long-term food supplies, and the Midwest is poised to help. In fact, a rich supply of raw materials and proximity to large markets makes Illinois and Indiana prime locations for aquaculture farms and related industries. To help producers cash in on these benefits, IISG, University of Illinois Extension, and Purdue Extension teamed up to create Aquaculture Economics and Marketing Resources. The site provides leading research and how-to information for developing a productive, innovative, and profitable aquaculture business. Visitors interested in starting a new business will find resources on everything from establishing an organizational structure to creating a business plan to securing financing. New and veteran producers can also find tips for connecting with consumers and tapping into niche markets. Aquaculture Economics and Marketing Resources is one of several tools IISG uses to help aquaculture producers define markets and create value-added opportunities for their products. Since 2005, Kwamena Quagrainie has held roughly 40 workshops with over 1,200 participants. These and other efforts in Indiana resulted in about $15 million in farm sales of aquaculture products in 2013, a nearly five-fold increase over 2005. To learn more about how aquaculture is strengthening Indiana’s economy, read our 2013 program impacts.
Believe it or not, Indiana is a prime location for aquaculture industries due to its rich supply of raw materials for fish food and access to large markets. And as fish continue to be harvested from oceans and other water bodies at unsustainable rates, the role of aquaculture grows ever more vital.
This work has led to economic development not just in the aquaculture industry but in a variety of other sectors as well. Research has revealed that farm sales of aquaculture products in Indiana reached about $15 million in 2013, a nearly five-fold increase over 2005. Fish farming in the state supports 280 jobs, 169 directly in the aquaculture industry. Aquaculture generates $3.7 million labor income and $19.5 million added value. The industry output is valued at $23.6 million for a total value of $38 million with other supporting industries.
To learn more about how IISG is empowering communities and individuals to strengthen local environments and economies, check out our 2013 program impacts.