Aquaculture Magazine

February / March 2014

Marine Finfish Aquaculture

By Mark Drawbridge

What an honor it is for me to contribute to Aquaculture Magazine on the topic of marine finfish farming. My 25 year career in aquaculture has focused on stock replenishment of marine fish, particularly the sciaenid Atractoscion nobilis, which is known locally as white seabass. 

Successful stocking programs require a comprehensive understanding of the species’ biology and ecology to maximize post release survival, which further enhances our understanding of culture requirements. Worldwide, many species of fish now farmed commercially for food were first cultured for stocking (e.g., salmonids). In similar fashion, our replenishment research at HSWRI has expanded naturally to include commercial demonstration projects conducted in partnership with commercial aquaculturists on land and at sea.

Farming for food and stocking are complementary practices that can be used to help manage and conserve fisheries. Local endemic species with good market potential for farming have been easy to identify and subsequently couple with “culture-ability” characteristics by looking globally for similar species farmed elsewhere. This has lead us to conduct research on species like California halibut (Paralichthys californicus), California yellowtail (Seriola lalandi), and striped bass (Morone saxatilis) to name a few.

When developing practical farming techniques for new species on a commercial scale, the research opportunities are plentiful and the challenges can be significant. For me, this has been a very appealing and rewarding aspect of my daily work. Consistent spawning patterns and production of high quality eggs is paramount to downstream culture success, including larval rearing which is well known to be the most typical bottleneck to mass production. Larval rearing is the critical “blue thumb” area for culture of most aquatic organisms, and marine finfish are no exception.

Farming for food and stocking are complementary practices that can be used to help manage and conserve fisheries.

Success, measured by the quantity and quality of surviving post-larvae, requires optimal environmental and water quality conditions matched with excellent husbandry practices. From the hatchery, growout of mass quantities of fish presents new challenges whether growout is done on land or at sea. Economic and environmental sustainability are key drivers in this area of the production cycle because of the biomass that is typically involved. Systems must be engineered for efficiency and durability, feeds must be well balanced nutritionally and economically relative to fluctuating ingredient costs, and best management practices must be sound to keep the fish (and farm site) healthy.

In its 2012 report on the State of the World Fisheries and Aquaculture, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations reported that marine finfish farming globally grew at an average rate of 9.3% from 1990 to 2010, which was seven times greater than the growth in production of shellfish. This is clear evidence of the success that is occurring worldwide and indicative of the exciting opportunities that lie ahead as more of the world’s oceans are utilized for food production. One of the challenges for me in writing this column is the fact that the United States is not yet a “real” player in this exciting, expanding arena of marine finfish farming. So, as I sit in my office here in San Diego writing this article, the rest of the world is doing most of the heavy lifting! Challenges are meant to be overcome, and I hope that I can still provide relevant, interesting information on this topic in the months and years to come. Please feel free to provide feedback on the articles I write and specific areas you would like to see covered in future columns.

Mark Drawbridge

Mark Drawbridge graduated from Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania in 1985 with a B.S. degree in biology and from San Diego State University in 1990 with a M.Sc. degree in Marine Ecology. Mark is currently a Senior Research Scientist at Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute (HSWRI) in San Diego, where he has been employed since 1989. Mark also serves as the Director of the Institute’s aquaculture program, which is focused on developing techniques for growing marine finfish for ocean replenishment and farming. The HSWRI aquaculture research program supports approximately 30 full-time staff, two research hatcheries in San Diego, and acclimation cage facilities throughout southern California coastal waters. Species currently being investigated for farming include white seabass, striped bass, California yellowtail, California halibut, and yellowfin tuna.

In addition to his direct responsibilities at HSWRI, Mark is a current board member and past-president of the California Aquaculture Association; an adjunct faculty member at the University of San Diego; a member of the Western Regional Aquaculture Center’s technical research committee; a member of California’s Aquaculture Development Committee; and a member of the California Farm Bureau Federation Commodity Advisory Committee for Aquaculture.

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