Development of an Integrated, Offshore Hatchery and Cage Culture System in the Gulf of Mexico
University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, TX, USA and Gulf Marine Institute of Technology, Gulf Breeze, FL, USA
The US consumes more seafood than it produces, creating an escalating trade deficit for seafood products, US$7 B in 1997 and US$9 B in 1999. Trends for seafood consumption project even greater consumption in the future while trends for commercial seafood catches are declining. Hence, aquaculture is the only solution to this widening gap in consumption versus production. Over 25% of world seafood production comes from aquaculture but the US is responsible for less than 2% of all aquaculture production. The US Department of Commerce through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has developed a US aquaculture policy to increase the value of the US aquaculture industry from US $900 Million to US $5 Billion, employment from 180,000 to 600,000 jobs and exports by 5-fold. However, the plan has no direct appropriations, creating a funding gap. A currently proposed research and development (R&D) project addresses the need for increased seafood production by employing a retired offshore oil and gas platform. The platform will be used to establish a logistic center for mariculture R&D through construction and operation of hatchery, nursery and cage production systems. The program is a collaborative, interdisciplinary research endeavor linking industry, nonprofit and academic organizations. The objectives include (1) pilot stocking of offshore cages, (2) maturation and reproduction of native Gulf fish species, (3) demonstrate commercial hatchery production, (4) development of culture management methods and training of personnel, (5) marketing analyses for products, (6) disease monitoring program, (7) broodstock genetics program, and (8) bioeconomic modeling of results. This offshore platform projects offers the opportunity to combine private and public resources to establish a unique R&D facility, boosting the creation of an offshore mariculture industry as proposed by NOAA. The results of this R&D program could assist the US seafood industry to significantly reduce our fisheries deficit, increase employment and exploit foreign markets.