Florida Keys Community College was awarded $147,807 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Sea Grant Program to assess aquaculture management in the United States.  Aquaculture, also known as fish farming, is a growing industry that includes culturing freshwater and marine species for sustainable seafood, stock enhancement and restoration, and the aquarium trade.  FKCC was one of only 11 educational institutions—and the only community college—nationwide to be selected for funding in the 2016 Sea Grant Aquaculture Research Competition.

Dr. Michelle Walsh, FKCC Marine Science Department Chair and Professor, partnered with Robert Jones, the Global Aquaculture Lead at The Nature Conservancy, to oversee the project as its principle investigators.  The research, which will be assisted by FKCC Tropical Ornamental Mariculture Technology (TOMT) students Laura Cannella and Virginia MacEachran, will assess the conformance of U.S. aquaculture management to internationally-accepted guidelines provided by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Technical Guidelines on Aquaculture Certification. The assessment will highlight strengths of the U.S. management system at the federal level, as well as illuminate where further efforts to address FAO guidelines may be beneficial.

“Consumers hear conflicting messages about the safety and sustainability of U.S. seafood, particularly seafood that has been produced by aquaculture,” said Walsh.  “The scope of our research will span biological and socio-economic sustainability, as well as animal welfare and food safety.  Our findings will serve to educate consumers and will help U.S. aquaculture producers differentiate their products in terms of sustainability.”

Students Cannella and MacEachran will work with Dr. Walsh to review U.S. federal laws, regulations, and policies that apply to aquaculture and to document what the United States says is done to promote sustainable aquaculture practices, as well as to provide case study evidence of what actually is done. The Nature Conservancy will coordinate a working group of aquaculture stakeholders to provide technical guidance and peer review.

FKCC’s unique TOMT program provides hands-on training in the technology of cultivating clownfish and other species as a way to supply the demand for aquarium fish that does not impact delicate coral reef ecosystems.

“Through grant opportunities like this one, we are expanding opportunities for our students to learn broader aspects of the aquaculture industry and to therefore become a better-equipped generation of marine science professionals and environmental protectors,” said Walsh.