While overfishing and other factors continue to decrease fish populations, scientists at the Baltimore-based Aquaculture Research Center are developing an environmentally responsible method to source seafood, Christina Tkacik reports for the Baltimore Banner. Yonathan Zohar and his team of researchers at the center—located on the ground floor of the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology (IMET) in the Inner Harbor—are now focusing their efforts on salmon, after receiving a $10 million grant from the U.S. government.
What methods are these scientists using to farm seafood?
Zohar raises salmon using on-land water tanks engineered to mirror the natural spawning grounds of wild salmon off the coast of Maine. Though salmon traditionally only spawn once a year, Zohar’s team is working to trick the fish into spawning year-round to produce more salmon to keep up with high commercial consumption in the U.S., most of which is currently imported from abroad.
Traditional methods of farming salmon, and other fish, often damage the surrounding marine ecosystem, and fish raised in these systems are more prone to environmental intrusions such as disease. But Zohar’s techniques allow him to control external stressors to the fish, as well as filter out fish poop and other debris and convert it to an energy source.
“Nothing goes back into the environment,” Zohar said. And the “environment doesn’t have any impact on the fish.”
However, the technology at the heart of IMET’s research has come under fire in the past. A Norwegian company called Aquacon planned to build a farming center on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, but critics opposed the move to bring a “fish factory” to the state. Aquacon later withdrew its request for permits.
Anything else I should know?
While Zohar’s team is currently focused on salmon, he hopes their research can also be applied to blue crabs. But raising these popular crustaceans poses a unique challenge: cannibalism. Larger blue crabs eat smaller ones who have recently shed their exoskeletons, making it hard to maintain populations even with a controlled environment. But Zohar is optimistic that in the near future, scientists will be able to counteract this impulse.
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