Research and Extension Programs Address Needs of Louisiana's Aquaculture Industry

Linda Benedict, Romaire, Robert P.  |  4/15/2009 12:38:37 AM

Robert P. Romaire

Even though aquaculture, or “farming of the waters,” has been practiced for centuries, it was more “art” than “science” until late into the 20th century. Today, the scientific principles used in traditional animal husbandry are applied to aquaculture, and new technologies to improve sustainability and profitability of fish farming enterprises are being developed rapidly. Aquacultural sciences, traditionally dominated by OVERVIEW grant institutions in allocating resources to research and extension programs in aquaculture.

With plentiful water, flat terrain and abundant coastal wetlands, Louisiana is a national leader in area and revenues derived from aquaculture. In 1998, nearly 3,600 aquaculture producers harvested more than 123 million pounds of cultivated aquatic animals with a farm value of $152 million; value-added aquatic biologists, now include scientists from many disciplines, such as engineering, veterinary science, economics and food science. Their contributions have significantly increased the rate of development and adoption of new technologies. The LSU Agricultural Center has been a leader among landcontributed $99 million. Louisiana has among the most diversified aquaculture industries in the country led by channel catfish, crawfish, oysters and alligators followed by smaller commodities including bait minnows, soft-shell crabs and soft crawfish, hybrid striped bass, red drum, tilapia, gamefish fingerlings, turtles and ornamental fishes. State and federal fish hatcheries in Louisiana produce more than 6 million recreational game fish, such as largemouth bass, striped bass, hybrid striped bass, catfish (blue, channel, flathead), paddlefish and forage species (koi, golden shiner, bluegill) for stock enhancement of the state’s recreational public water bodies.

Industry faces challenges

Louisiana’s aquaculture industry is not without problems though. Several commodities are threatened by competition from foreign imports, environmental restrictions on land and water use, price increases in farm services and supplies, diseases associated with intensified production, off-flavor that hinders fish sales, bird depredation and difficulties in securing financing from commercial lenders. Continued growth and sustainability of the state’s aquacultural enterprises depend on solutions from LSU Agricultural Center scientists being implemented by industry.

In 1966, to address the needs of the state’s fledgling aquaculture industry, the Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station (LAES) hired James W. Avault Jr. as a professor of aquaculture in the School of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries. Dr. Avault quickly initiated research programs that led to major changes and spurred growth in the state’s crawfish farming industry. Research programs addressed the needs of the state’s catfish farmers, and the potential for commercial development of other species in Louisiana was investigated, including marine shrimp, red drum, pompano, freshwater prawns, bait minnows, hybrid striped bass and tilapia.

In 1980, Dr. Avault wrote a report that laid the groundwork for a long-term program to enhance aquaculture research and technology transfer. Since then, aquacultural scientists were hired and research facilities upgraded and expanded. To bolster the effectiveness and efficiency of aquaculture research, LSU Agricultural Center administration created the Aquaculture Research Station on July 1, 1998. Its mission is to enhance the competitiveness and profitability of the state’s aquaculture producers and to promote the industry’s continued economic development.

In 1999, the LAES has 15 aquaculture research projects involving 12 senior scientists and numerous support personnel. Most scientists have joint appointments with the LSU College of Agriculture to support teaching and graduate education programs. Four senior scientists on the LSU A&M campus direct aquaculture research, teaching and graduate education programs and work closely with Ag Center personnel. In 1999, scientists supervised 35 graduate students, including 16 working on doctoral degrees and 19 on master’s degrees.

LSU Agricultural Center aquacultural scientists work closely with personnel in the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) and the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry (LDAF). Early LAES research on mariculture was conducted at coastal aquaculture facilities operated by the LDWF. Collaborative LAES research programs in aquaculture have existed with scientists at regional universities including the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Northwestern State University of Louisiana, Nicholls State University, Southern University and the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON).

Aquaculture research and extension programs address many issues:
  • developing management procedures for minimizing water use, effluent discharge and recycling water resources
  • searching for genetic improvement of cultivated finfish and shellfish stocks through selective breeding, hybridization, polyploidy, sterilization and transgenic manipulation
  • improving fish feeds for cost reduction and enhanced growth, and developing environmental friendly feeds that minimize nutrient release to the aquatic environment
  • developing water management systems that limit water use, minimize waste discharge, minimize off-flavor in cultivated species and maintain a healthy environment of the cultivated fish, crustacean or mollusk
  • developing vaccines and other management procedures that reduce the incidence and severity of diseases in cultivated aquatic animals
  • investigating the potential for culture of non-indigenous species and their impact on native species
  • improving production strategies and management programs to improve culture efficiency developing value-added products and improvements in product quality
  • addressing economic sustainability of aquaculture in Louisiana
Louisiana has a unique opportunity to take advantage of continuing demand for fisheries products. Louisiana has the resources needed for aquaculture development, including highly fertile, flat agricultural lands conducive to pond development, a long growing season, abundant surface water and ground water resources, and nearly 30 percent of the nation’s coastal wetlands. Aquaculture integrates well into traditional agricultural operations and has potential to diversify business opportunities for Louisiana grain and animal producers.

Continued and expanded contributions of aquaculture to Louisiana’s economic development require research designed to sustain economically viable businesses by increasing production efficiency through advances in nutrition, genetic improvement, water management and water use, disease control and prevention, production management, post-harvest product quality and development of value-added products. With the new millennium upon us, LSU Agricultural Center scientists look forward to the challenge of developing research, extension and education programs designed to improve the competitiveness and profitability of the state’s aquaculture producers while providing comprehensive undergraduate and graduate curricula to develop quality aquaculture professionals. Further details on the LSU Agricultural Center’s aquaculture research and educational programs can be viewed at our website: research/aquaculture.

Robert P. Romaire, Resident Director and Professor, Aquaculture Research Station, LSU Agricultural Center, Baton Rouge, La.

(This article was published in the fall 1999 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)

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