Inside the ARECs: The Seafood AREC in Hampton, Va.

The Agricultural Research and Extension Centers are a network of 11 research centers located throughout the state that emphasize the close working relationship between the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station and Virginia Cooperative Extension. “Inside the ARECs” highlights the work and accomplishments of these 11 centers and will appear in every Insights.

Established in 1975, The Seafood AREC is housed in a two-story 9600-square-foot building located on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay in Hampton, Va.

Seafood Research and Extension Center

Core research and Extension programs at the center focus on food science research regarding safe food handling practices associated with seafood products, as well as post-harvest processing methods for molluscan shellfish, aquaculture thermal and freezing processes, energy audits, and waste management.

The Seafood AREC also currently serves as a regional Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points training center and is a hub for the region.

Economic support of the seafood industry is a primary and critical objective at the Seafood AREC. Currently the United States imports 75 percent of its seafood, and among natural resources the seafood trade deficit is second only to oil and now stands at $11.2 billion dollars.

The research that is conducted at the center not only helps to maintain a safe food supply but also directly benefits the aquaculture industry in the commonwealth. Recirculation tanks at the facility are used in crucial management and research of system design and operation, larviculture, fish feeds and nutrition, environmental optimization, and disease control for marine species.

A main focus of disease control for the Seafood AREC is the control of the pathogens Vibrio vulnificus and Vibrio parahaemolyticus in raw oysters. The potentially deadly pathogens are naturally occurring and peak in the summer months when the water is warmer. Vibrios are the main cause of illness from raw oyster consumption and on average 45 people suffer from vibrio poisoning each year, with 20 of those poisoning incidents resulting in death.

“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 Seafood AREC.

By placing oysters in recirculation tanks with salinity, researchers can reduce levels of vibrios to levels that are safe for human consumption. The research to better mitigate vibrios in oysters is conducted in collaboration with researcher Salina Parveen at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

Fin fish are also a focus of the AREC and are of critical importance to the food supply in the United States. The Seafood AREC conducts aquaculture nutrition research using cobia and pompano to help producers increase production in an economically viable and sustainable way using plant-based fish feed.  Currently fishmeal — fish feed made from fish — is so widely used in aquaculture that it has become scarce and prohibitively expensive for many aquaculture practitioners. The nutrition studies measure how much feed is necessary for the fish and also how and what to finish the fish with. Like farmers that finish cattle on grain, researchers at the Seafood AREC study how to maximize finishing feed to make the final product palatable to consumers in texture, taste, and color.

“We need to grow a lot more seafood and we have to decrease the use of fish meal to make it more economical and sustainable,” said Extension Specialist Mike Schwarz. “The future for aquaculture is less fish meal and we’re helping it get there.”

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