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NCCOS Project

Applied Ecophysiology of Marine Aquaculture Species to Understand Environmental Interactions

This project began in May 2012 and was completed in May 2014

Forecasting environmental interactions of marine aquaculture activities requires an in-depth understanding of the environment and the species farmed. We are investigating two promising candidates for marine aquaculture: red porgy and vermilion snapper. Like many fish within the Snapper–Grouper Complex of the South Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico, these two valuable species are overfished and are strictly managed to rebuild populations.

Why We Care
With increasing demand for seafood in the U.S., the marine aquaculture industry is poised for significant growth to meet demand while improving market competitiveness for domestic, high-quality seafood products. Recent advances in hatchery and grow-out technologies are leading to the development of an expanding marine fish aquaculture industry. Significant progress has been made to ensure the environmental sustainability of marine aquaculture. Fish can be grown successfully using a variety of production methods, ranging from offshore cages to land-based farms equipped with sophisticated filtration systems to recycle and reuse water. Best management practices and standardized production methods ensure the safety, quality, and traceability of seafood from egg to market. Growth of a domestic aquaculture industry contributes to the infrastructure of coastal communities and supports local economies through creation of jobs and ancillary industries for shoreside seafood processing and distribution.

What We Are Doing
For more than 100 years, scientists with NOAA’s Beaufort Laboratory have studied the physiology of fishes and methods for artificial propagation of marine fish to accelerate recovery of depleted stocks and increase production of valuable fishery products. Research at the laboratory continues to address physiological aspects of marine fish selected for commercial culture. This information is crucial for development of environmental models to inform spatial planning and economic opportunity assessments.

To accomplish these goals, we are working to establish year-round spawning methods and advance hatchery techniques for red porgy (Pagrus pagrus). Significant progress has been made in development of reliable spawning methods for the mass production of high quality gametes, larvae, and fingerlings under varying experimental conditions, resulting in successful production of domesticated red porgy broodstock. Findings from laboratory experiments suggest red porgy can be cultured at high densities and fed commercially available diets. We are planning pilot-scale studies to examine growth, nutrition, and economic viability using state-of-the-art recirculating aquaculture systems.

Vermilion snapper (Rhomboplites aurorubens) is being evaluated as a new candidate species for aquaculture. We are conditioning wild-caught broodstock to spawn in the laboratory. We will quantify fecundity, gamete quality, fertilization, and hatching success. Also, we will culture larvae using protocols developed for red porgy and other marine fish species cultured at the laboratory. At various life history stages, we will collect data on energetics, growth rates, feed conversation rates, and mortality to improve environmental models.

Benefits of Our Work
We have accomplished the transfer of aquaculture technology to industry through trade magazine articles, peer review journals, media presentations, and direct consulting with private industry. Also, we are developing a hatchery manual that will facilitate a transfer of technology to commercial producers.

Next Steps
We will produce red porgy and vermilion snapper from egg to adult-size using biotechnology developed through a collaborative partnership between NCCOS and the National Marine Fisheries Service’s Office of Aquaculture. This work continues our strategy to develop technology for reef fish aquaculture along the Southeast U.S. and Gulf of Mexico. Planned research will focus on refinement of hatchery techniques, development of methods for shipping of eggs and transport of juveniles, and evaluation of production technology for commercial grow-out operations.

Additional Resources

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Peer-Reviewed Publications

  • Ostrowski, A.D., W.O. Watanabe, F.P. Montgomery, T.C. Rezek, T.H. Shafer, and J.A. Morris, Jr. 2011. Effects of salinity and temperature on the growth, survival, whole body osmolality, stress resistance, and expression of Na+/K+ ATPase mRNA in red porgy (Pagrus pagrus). Aquaculture 314:193–201.
  • Rezek, T.C., W.O. Watanabe, J.A. Morris, Jr., N.A. McNeil. 2009. Atlantic red porgy: Candidate species for U.S. aquaculture. Global Aquaculture Advocate Jan/Feb 44–46.
  • Morris, J.A., Jr., T.C. Rezek, N.A. McNeil, and W.O. Watanabe. 2008. Aquaculture of the Atlantic red porgy. North American Journal of Aquaculture 70:184–191.
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