Nearly 60% of Earth’s fisheries are being fished to their capacity, and 34% are overfished. By 2030, fish farms are expected to supply nearly two-thirds of food fish worldwide.
For decades, Mote Marine Laboratory scientists have developed the technology to help seafood farming—known as aquaculture—grow sustainably, through rigorous research centered in Mote-engineered aquaculture systems that recycle 100% of their saltwater.
At Mote Aquaculture Research Park (MAP)—Mote’s innovation-focused campus in eastern Sarasota County, Florida—the past year ushered in exciting new ideas and underscored that water-recycling technology is just one of many incredible tools in the toolkit for a sustainable future. Mote is building out that toolkit with an increasingly diverse set of aquaculture innovations, along with a pioneering effort to produce real seafood without raising or catching any fish.
- Making seafood from its ‘building blocks’:
Our growing population needs a growing diversity of seafood sources, from sustainable fishing and fish farming to exciting new options made possible by technology. This year, Mote scientists launched a project to help develop one of those futuristic foods: cultivated seafood made by culturing cells.
That’s right: In the future, it may be possible to have your fish and eat it too, combining microscopic fish cells and ingredients that help them grow and multiply to generate the tasty stuff (i.e., fish muscle and healthy fats) rather than harvesting the same tissues from a fish.
Dozens of companies are developing products using some version of this technology—sometimes called “cellular agriculture” or “cell-based meat”—with meats such as beef and pork. As with most new food-production techniques, scientists are working on ways to scale up these practices reliably and safely, which takes time and problem-solving prowess. In particular, cell-based seafood is in its infancy, and Mote scientists are excited to help develop it from the ground up. As of early 2020, only about five public-facing companies in the cell-based-meat field were focused solely on seafood; few food-fish species have been studied in enough detail to have their cells cultured effectively for this purpose.
This year, Mote scientists launched an effort to change that for a few seafood species found on dinner plates: whiteleg shrimp (Litopenaeus vannamei), almaco jack (Seriola rivoliana, a sushi-grade white fish) and red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus, redfish). This research is funded by the Good Food Institute with a goal to provide a new seafood source that does not impact wild fish populations or the environment. This research is funded by the Good Food Institute with a goal to provide a new seafood source that does not impact wild fish populations or the environment. Mote’s initial efforts are focused on developing cell lines from fish or shrimp species that can be cultured continuously and provide a renewable and reliable source of cells that have the potential to differentiate into muscle cells. These cells form the building blocks of healthy seafood. Cells for the project are being collected and grown from Mote’s own aquaculture-raised fish.
Mote scientists aim to have at least some seafood cell lines available in 2021 to enable the next steps in a multi-partner research process that, if successful over the long term, could help fill sustainable seafood gaps with a smart solution.
- Taking seafood successes to the next level:
Back in 2014, Mote scientists launched a prototype marine aquaponics system in a greenhouse at Mote Aquaculture Research Park and began raising saltwater fish and plants together in a sustainable, closed-loop system. Mote’s aquaponics system focused on growing edible species that have untapped market potential in the U.S.: particularly red drum and sea purslane (a type of sea vegetable). Aquaponic systems transfer nutrient-rich water from fish tanks through filtration systems to plant raceways, where the nutrients fertilize the plants. Next, the cleaned water is returned to the fish—ready to begin the cycle again. These remarkable systems can produce two products (fish and plants) from just one nutrient source, the fish food. Most aquaponic farming involves freshwater, and Mote has been working to expand options for sustainable, affordable, saltwater production that can be done away from the coast.
Mote’s prototype system has performed so successfully—sustainably producing redfish and sea purslane of consistently high quality—that Mote scientists launched an expansion this year to more than triple its footprint, creating the new Ron and Marla Wolf Aquaponics Center. Made possible by the generous support of the Wolf Foundation, the Center includes two new greenhouses, new wastewater treatment systems and a renovation of Mote’s original aquaponics building to produce fish year-round (previously, fish were produced during a few months each year). Above all, the new Center will allow Mote to demonstrate the economic feasibility of sustainable, marine aquaponics at a scale relevant to commercial farms. That includes running the larger system cost-effectively, identifying markets for the fish and plants, and documenting the outcomes to help farmers adopt this sustainable technology successfully.
The new Center will also expand sustainability science—for example, providing more space for Mote’s partnership with the Center for Mariculture Research in Eilat, Israel, to test improvements in living water filters (biofilters) containing a community of algae and microorganisms known as periphyton. These periphyton are being investigated not only for their water-filtering capacity but also as an alternative source of protein in food for aquaculture-raised fish.
- Mote scientists are also expanding their research on farming almaco jack (Seriola rivoliana)—a newly-recognized commercial species with market growth opportunities both domestically and internationally—in environmentally sustainable, land-based systems.
Native to the Gulf of Mexico, almaco jack have been identified as an important marine finfish for U.S. aquaculture development in the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Plan due to their fast growth, commercial demand, filet quality, high market value, and adaptability to anticipated culture conditions.
Almaco jack spawn (reproduce) readily in aquaculture systems—giving aquaculture scientists lots of larvae (baby fish) to raise. However, because the parent fish invest a great deal of energy in reproduction, they will need an enhanced diet to keep producing high-quality, fertilized eggs in longer-term aquaculture operations.
In a first-of-its-kind study launched this year and funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture Research Service, Mote scientists are investigating nutrition strategies to help almaco jack produce high-quality eggs and larvae in partnership with scientists studying other jack species at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute and Hubbs Sea World Research Institute. In addition, Mote will use genetic tools to evaluate parental contributions to almaco jack spawning events.