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Louisiana Sea Grant: Cultivating a Commitment to Aquaculture

Louisiana Sea Grant is continuing its investment in aquaculture by funding two projects looking at prominent aquaculture industries in the state. Over the next few years $292,094 in federal research funds will be supporting two projects in Louisiana—one in briny estuaries and one in freshwater ponds.

Aquaculture is an increasingly important industry, representing a way to supplement wild caught seafood. Globally, aquaculture is a rapidly growing food sector, but the United States lags behind many other countries. While the nation consumes large quantities of seafood, most of that is imported. Since the U.S. imports more seafood than it catches and grows, it’s important to look at ways to support domestic aquaculture production. This is the focus of the two projects being funded in Louisiana

Morgan Kelly, assistant professor in the Department of Biology at Louisiana State University, will be working with oysters. Triploid oysters have been a benefit to the oyster industry – they grow faster than other oysters and have better meat-yield in summer months. However, in those summer months they are prone to mortality events, and this is the issue that Kelly hopes to address. “The reasons for poor summer performance in triploids are not well understood,” said Kelly. “To develop triploid oysters a viable foundation for aquaculture in Louisiana, we need to understand the causes of poor summer performance.”

Kelly and her lab will look for differences in gene expression in both diploid and triploid oysters in high and low salinity environments. This information will then be funneled into the next phase of her research – identifying the conditions that take triploid oysters past the ‘breaking point.’ This information could then be used to identify the places where triploid oysters can and cannot be grown. “Off bottom culture of oysters in Louisiana has great potential to boost production and to insulate the industry from declines caused by unpredictable salinities and severe weather events,” said Kelly. However off-bottom aquaculture in this state is still in its infancy and will require further research and investment before it is a viable option for most oyster growers.”

Samendra Sherchan, assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences, School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine at Tulane University, will join a number of other Louisiana Sea Grant funded researchers studying the White Spot Syndrome Virus (WSSV) in Louisiana crawfish ponds. He will bring his expertise in microbiology and environmental health to the project as he helps to better understand the pond dynamics of an outbreak. “Under a changing climate, infectious diseases pose a major threat to crawfish production,” said Sherchan.

Sherchan’s lab will perform controlled lab studies on how temperature affects dormancy and outbreaks in the pond and will look at the persistence of WSSV in both farmed and wild-caught crawfish waters and sediment. The goal is to ultimately provide some best management practices to help crawfish farmers deal with WSSV. “Louisiana is a major producer of crawfish. The findings of this project would be useful not only for Louisiana aquaculture but other coastal states with shellfish aquaculture industries so they can best manage a virus with increasing prevalence and destructive outcomes,” said Sherchan.

These aquaculture-focused projects will begin Sept. 1, 2020 and will involve collaboration with industry stakeholders.