Although among the world’s most widely consumed seafoods, farmed salmon until recently has primarily taken place in the ocean with little attention given to alternatives such as controlled land-based techniques. Now, U.S. land-based Atlantic salmon farming is rising to new heights, due to the increased demand for sustainably produced seafood and an interest in more locally grown food sources. Aquaculture professionals with the University of Maryland are embracing this opportunity, helping to advance the science and potential of these systems right here in Maryland.
As part of a $10 million grant, University of Maryland Extension aquaculture agent associate Catherine Frederick is working with residents, county and state officials, industry developers, national and international collaborators, and nonprofits, to educate the public and identify challenges faced by the introduction of land-based Atlantic salmon farms, helping to pave the way for increased quantities of sustainable seafood production in Maryland and across the U.S.
Frederick is specifically working in Recirculating Aquaculture Systems, or RAS – fish farms that can produce local seafood with significantly reduced importation and transportation costs, making seafood more available and cheaper to consumers. These land-based aquaculture systems will provide a fresh, local source of salmon, said Frederick, and RAS technology offers advantages for sustainable production including waste treatment, enhanced biosecurity, and environmental condition control to maximize fish health, growth, and performance.
“The vision is to facilitate the growth of an environmentally sustainable, economically feasible U.S. Atlantic salmon industry,” said Frederick. “It’s an emerging industry and is creating lots of interest, excitement and questions. We will provide more information and education on how the industry utilizes and operates recirculating aquaculture systems as well as gather feedback from critical stakeholders and community residents. This feedback will be used to ensure we are combining our scientific know-how with the concerns and opportunities it presents within our current social, economic and environmental infrastructure.”
Partnering with Maryland Sea Grant’s Jim LaChance, Frederick will survey and assess community concerns in Maryland and other parts of the country where newly proposed, sited or possible Atlantic salmon aquaculture facilities may be built pending approval of permitting requirements. “We’re engaging the local community. They want to know, is it safe? Is it economically viable? Will it help my community?” says Frederick. “I’m here to see what it is that concerns the public, assess those concerns and create programs that address those needs.”
Working locally is only one piece of a larger $10 million U.S. Department of Agriculture-National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) grant focusing on sustainable Atlantic salmon production using RAS technology. The Sustainable Aquaculture Systems Supporting Atlantic Salmon project, known as SAS2, led by aquaculture expert Yonathan Zohar from the University of Maryland Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology, looks to foster sustainable practices and increase food security through salmon “farming” in land-based facilities not only in Maryland, but across the U.S.
Additionally, educators Jackie Takacs and Amy Lang are incorporating Maryland Sea Grant’s Aquaculture in Action program into 4-H programming, as well as the FFA/vocational agriculture classroom experiences. UME seafood safety specialist Cathy Liu will also be working to identify gaps in industry seafood safety procedures, quality inspection, and generating nutritional data for land-based Atlantic salmon, ensuring safe and healthy seafood products. Bill Hubbard, state Extension program leader for environmental, natural resources and Sea Grant programs, provides oversight and integration with other Extension and state agency programs. Hubbard is excited about the possibilities of increasing the supply of local seafood and believes that it will contribute to healthier diets, lower food costs, and local jobs in an environmentally sustainable fashion.
“There’s more demand than ever for seafood, and seafood that is sustainably produced, so it’s a promising and significant economic investment for the state,” said Frederick. “And it’s not just increasing investment into land-based aquaculture here in Maryland, it’s an emerging trend for the U.S. with Maryland in a leadership role.”