A fine kettle of fish

Mike Jahncke works with a Virginia Tech student at the Virginia Seafood AREC to find ways to increase aquaculture production around the state.

Mike Jahncke works with a Virginia Tech student at the Virginia Seafood AREC to find ways to increase aquaculture production around the state.

Some reports estimate that the U.S. imports as much as 90 percent of its seafood, making the trade deficit for seafood second only to oil among natural resource deficits in United States.

The research being conducted at the Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Hampton could change that. Not only does the research encourage growth of Virginia’s aquaculture industry, it also helps to maintain a safe seafood supply nationwide.

Virginia has seen particularly strong growth in the oyster industry and produced more than 500,000 bushels in the last year — a quantity that represents a 25 percent increase over the previous year and has not been seen in almost a generation.

One focus of researchers at the Virginia Seafood AREC is the control of pathogens, such as vibrios, in raw oysters.

These potentially deadly pathogens are naturally occurring and peak in the summer months when water temperatures rise. Vibrios are the main cause of illness from raw oyster consumption, and the mortality rate from vibrio poisoning can be as high as 50 percent.

“We are looking at some lower cost measures to eliminate vibrios in raw oysters by using salinity in water to lower vibrio levels,” said Mike Jahncke, director of the Virginia Seafood AREC.

David Kuhn,  assistant professor with Virginia Tech’s Department of Food Science and Technology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, has been working with other researchers to study water quality at a number of oyster hatcheries, including Oyster Seed Holdings in Grimstead, Va. Kuhn is working with Daniel Taylor, a senior research specialist with the Southwest Virginia Aquaculture Research Center. Mike Congrove, hatchery manager at Oyster Seed Holdings, is helping to monitor the water.By placing oysters in recirculation tanks with salinity, researchers have reduced vibrios to levels that are safe for human consumption.

Finfish are another focus at the AREC and are of critical importance to maintaining food security in the United States. Finfish not only provide protein for human consumption, they also provide fishmeal to feed fish. Increasingly, the lack of available fishmeal to feed farm-raised fish is a concern for producers and threatens the global supply of seafood.

Researchers at the Virginia Seafood AREC conduct aquaculture nutrition research that uses plant-based fish feed rather than scarce fish meal to help producers increase production in an economically viable and sustainable way.

The nutrition studies measure how much feed is necessary for the fish and also how and what to finish the fish with. Like farmers who finish cattle on grain, researchers at the Virginia Seafood AREC study how to maximize finishing feed to make fish palatable to consumers in texture, taste, and color.

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