Virginia Tech Researchers Take Lead At Aquaculture Symposium

BLACKSBURG, Va., July 7, 2003 – If the world wants to continue eating fish, the future pools of supply will need to come from aquacultured products. Virginia Tech continues to be a leader in the development of technologies needed to deliver safe foods cultured in healthy environments.

At the World Aquaculture Society (WAS) meeting, held recently in Louisville, Kentucky, Virginia Tech Aquaculture Center staff and CFAST (Commercial Fish and Shellfish Technologies) members organized and moderated special sessions in yellow perch culture, aquaculture disease and developments in marine flatfish technologies.

Over 14 scientific presentations were given by Virginia Tech researchers and students - representing the strongest research presence at the worldwide annual conference. As a result of Virginia Tech's high profile at the WAS meeting, Alltech Inc., one of the world's fastest growing animal feed additive companies, commissioned Ewen McLean, director of the university's Aquaculture Center, and Steven Craig, head of the center's nutrition group, to assist in the development of a special session on aquaculture for the 19th Annual Symposium on Biotechnology in the Feed Industry. "Our research not only has important ramifications to the aquaculture industry but also has significant implications for the development of oral drug carrier systems for other animals and humans," said McLean, who is a fisheries professor in the College of Natural Resources.

"Aquaculture has been the fastest growing component of any sector of agriculture production for the last quarter century, and its growth shows no sign of slowing," acknowledges Craig, research associate professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine. "Aquaculture production has become of increasing importance to the domestic economy as the only means of offsetting an imbalance of trade in seafood products, which presently stands at $5 billion annually," he says.

McLean adds, "The Commonwealth of Virginia is an important player in the national aquaculture scene with total sales of around $25 million in 2002. In addition to being one of the country's most important producers of tilapia, clams, and softshell crabs, the Commonwealth is the seventh largest producer of trout. The state, which also supplies oysters, scallops, catfish and hybrid striped bass to regional markets, has recently examined the possibility of producing other marine and freshwater species using intensive aquaculture methods."

With increasing concerns over traceability and food security and safety, aquaculture represents the only means of safeguarding our aquatic-based food supply. "As a key component of Virginia Tech's expanding research activities, the Aquaculture Center of the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences seeks to enhance our understanding of the complex issues that face the future development of sustainable aquaculture both domestically and internationally," McLean continues. The Aquaculture Center is currently investigating the fresh water fish species, yellow perch and tilapia and the marine fish, summer flounder, southern flounder and cobia.

Plans are afoot to expand species diversity housed at the center with pompano, Atlantic sturgeon and marine shrimp later this year. This diversity of animals provides visiting school children and other touring groups a unique opportunity to encounter the broad range of fishes that are available to the Commonwealth's aquaculture industry.