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NOAA awards $9.3 million to support aquaculture research

Research will be conducted in partnership with NOAA Sea Grant programs around the country

NOAA has announced 32 research grants totaling $9.3 million for projects around the country to further develop the nation’s marine and coastal aquaculture industry – including one project in Louisiana.

“This country, with its abundant coastline, should not have to import billions of pounds of seafood each year,” said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. “These grants will promote aquaculture projects that will help us reduce our trade deficit in this key industry.”

The grants were awarded through two competitions to help spur the development and growth of shellfish, finfish, and seaweed aquaculture businesses. The projects include basic and applied research to improve efficient production of seafood, permitting of new businesses, management of environmental health issues, and economic success of aquaculture businesses.

“Public-private partnerships play a vital role in advancing sustainable domestic aquaculture and increasing food security,” said Jonathan Pennock, director of NOAA Sea Grant. “Industry is working alongside researchers on each of these projects, which will help expand businesses, create new jobs and provide economic benefits to coastal communities.”

All projects include public-private partnerships and will be led by university-based NOAA Sea Grant programs. With each project, every two dollars of federal funding is matched by one dollar of non-federal funds, bringing the total investment in these research projects to more than $13.9 million.

NOAA received 126 proposals requesting nearly $58 million in federal funds.

For a full list and short descriptions of the 32 grant projects, visit the NOAA Sea Grant website

The aquaculture project in Louisiana is titled: “Fulfilling Gulf of Mexico Regional Tetraploid Eastern Oyster Breeding Program.”

John Supan, Louisiana Sea Grant and the LSU AgCenter bivalve researcher, is the principal investigator. Co-principal Investigator is Brian Callam with Louisiana Sea Grant. NOAA funding for the project is $87,639.

The aim of the project is to contribute to the continued growth of oyster aquaculture in Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico region (GOM) by fulfilling the Louisiana Sea Grant Oyster Research Lab’s (LASGORL) breeding program aimed at improving tetraploid oysters to create enhanced triploid oysters for commercial use. The lab is located on Grand Isle.

Triploids, which are best produced by mating a tetraploid male with a diploid female, are the primary genetic enhancement used in oyster aquaculture in the GOM. Triploid oysters have three sets of chromosomes – unlike normal (diploid) oysters that have two – and triploids are sexually sterile. From June through November when diploid oysters are expending energy to spawn and using fat stores, triploid oysters remain meaty – creating a new summer crop for Louisiana and GOM oyster growers.

Triploids can be created artificially in the lab by manipulating oyster chromosomes, which has been done, but that process does not produce 100 percent triploidy. However, chromosome manipulation can also be used to create tetraploid oysters, which have four sets of chromosomes and can sexually reproduce. When bred with diploid oysters, tetraploid oysters produce 100 percent triploid offspring.

Ultimately, the project will allow LASGORL to begin field testing new tetraploid families and their triploid offspring. From the unique tetraploid breeding lines that will be created as a result of the activities outlined in this project, the researchers will have a variety of triploid types that can be produced (based on which diploid the tetraploid is mated with). These triploids can then be tailored to fit the variety of unique conditions growers operate in across the GOM region. Triploid oysters, combined with advanced off-bottom culture techniques, will allow oyster aquaculture to expand into areas previously thought to be unsuitable for growth because of factors like high salinity or oyster disease pressure.