Aquaculture’s tide is rising in the commonwealth

David Kuhn

Tilapia are well-suited to Assistant Professor of Food Science and Technology David Kuhn’s research because they school well, grow rapidly, and are native to fresh water.

“Virginia is poised to be an excellent player in the aquaculture industry with its superb access to markets in Washington, D.C., and New York and its attractive labor pool.”

Due to demand and population growth projections in the United States, the forecasted domestic seafood gap in 2025 is 2 million to 4 million tons, a national resource deficit second only to oil.

Assistant Professor of Food Science and Technology David Kuhn is working to capitalize on this demand to strengthen the aquaculture industry in the commonwealth, and his efforts will have far-reaching impacts beyond Virginia’s borders.

“In terms of a global view, fish is a good way to get protein into people’s diets,” said Kuhn.

Virginia Tech: Aquaculture research from VirginiaTech on Vimeo.

Unlike resource-intensive cattle, it only takes 1 to 2 pounds of feed to grow 1 pound
of fish.

Finfish like tilapia are ideal for Kuhn’s purposes because they prefer to be in dense conditions, school well, grow quickly, and are native to fresh water. Tilapia is a popular seafood item among consumers in the United States, and in 2014 Americans imported 1.4 billion pounds of the fish.

Kuhn’s research focuses on improving the health of farmed tilapia by increasing disease resistance and improving nutrient utilization to make tilapia higher in omega 3, like more popular marine finfish such as salmon.

Because some aquaculture enthusiasts who would be interested in farming the fish have limited space for storing it, he also wants to research some ways to add value to the end product of the supply chain by not just selling whole fish, but also value-added filets.

Kuhn has been working with Blue Ridge Aquaculture, in Martinsville, Virginia, to increase its production of farmed tilapia. The company is the world’s largest producer of tilapia using indoor recirculating aquaculture systems. Currently the company produces more than 4 million pounds of the fish per year.

“Virginia is poised to be an excellent player in the aquaculture industry with its superb access to markets in Washington, D.C., and New York and its attractive labor pool,” Kuhn said. “Modern, integrated aquaculture facilities are a 24/7 operation and require a dependable and also highly skilled workforce to run them. We have both of those things in Southwest Virginia.”

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