Development of Seaweed Culture System Technologies to Support Integrated Multi-trophic Aquaculture and Sea Vegetable Aquaculture in New England Coastal Waters

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Project Type: 
Research
Project Number: 
R/CFR-14
Inception Date: 
2010
Completion Date: 
2011

Participants:

Christopher Neefus UNH - Department of Biological Sciences Principal Investigator
Charles Yarish University of Connecticut - Stamford Co-Principal Investigator
Paul Dobbins Ocean Approved, LLC Industry Partner
Tollef Olson Ocean Approved, LLC Industry Partner

Students Involved:

Katherine Hladki UNH - Department of Biological Sciences
Lindsay Green UNH - Department of Biological Sciences
Abstract: 
Marine aquaculture production in North America is predominantly finfish; in New England and Atlantic Canada the industry focus is salmon and cod. Fish aquaculture can have a large environmental footprint resulting from the production of metabolic waste products including dissolved inorganic nutrients (e.g. ammonium and phosphates) and carbon dioxide. Growth of the marine aquaculture industry in New England and the rest of the USA is constrained by concerns and regulations related to water quality and environmental sustainability. Integrated Multi-trophic Aquaculture (IMTA) represents one of the most practical and effective systems for overcoming these constraints. In IMTA, production of “fed” organisms (e.g. fish) is coupled with the production of one or more commercially important “extractive” organisms (e.g. seaweeds and/or filter-feeding shellfish). Nutrients and carbon dioxide produced by the fed component are removed (directly or indirectly) from the system by the extractive component. Pilot-scale coastal and tank-base IMTA systems in New England, Atlantic Canada and elsewhere have demonstrated a dramatic reduction in the environmental footprint of finfish aquaculture. Economic analyses indicate that IMTAs can be cost-effective and financially attractive on a commercial scale.
 
There are few remaining barriers to commercial-scale adoption of IMTA technology. One barrier to the integration of seaweed as an extractive component is the absence of a commercial source of young seaweed plants that can be grown in these systems. The primary goal of the proposed project is to develop technology for commercial-scale mass production of young seaweed plants of several economically important native New England species that are found in the Gulf of Maine and Long Island Sound. The project objectives include establishing unialgal cultures from wild-collected material, determining the key culture conditions that control and trigger progression through each species life history stages, designing and constructing a scalable modular culture system appropriate for commercial production of young plants, developing a detailed protocol for culture system operation, and finally transferring the technology to the educational and commercial sectors. Some of the young seaweed produced in the culture system during the course of the project will be used in seaweed biofilter tanks of the Integrated Recirculating Aquaculture Systems at the UNH Aquaculture Research Center and at Bridgeport Regional Vocational Aquaculture School (BRVAS). Young plants of Saccharina (kelp) will be grown out at the Ocean Approved, Inc. lease sites in Portland, Maine.

 

The project will be a collaborative effort between the University of New Hampshire, the University of Connecticut, the Bridgeport Regional Vocational Aquaculture School and Ocean Approved, Inc.

Objectives: 
The goal of our project is to develop and improve culture system technology for cold-water marine seaweeds that are good candidates for aquaculture in an Integrated Multi-trophic System, and to transfer that technology to the commercial sector. We will focus our efforts on native New England species of Porphyra (nori), Saccharina (kelp), Chrondrus (Irish moss) and Gracilaria. 

 

This is a collaborative project funded by N.H. Sea Grant and CT Sea Grant. These objectives are for the combined project and the work on the objectives is divided between the two labs.

 

 

Objectives:

 
1. Isolate and maintain cultures of New England species of Porphyra, Saccharina, Chondrus and Gracilaria to be used as “seed stock” for the production of young plants.
 
2. Determine the optimum conditions to promote vegetative proliferation of each life history stage as well as conditions that trigger the succession of reproductive stages needed to produce young plants of each species.
 
3. Develop reliable modular systems that are expandable to commerical scale for the mass production of young Porphyra, Saccharina, Chondrus and Gracilaria plants.
 
4. Develop detailed protocols/manuals for implementation of the technology, cultures maintenance and production of young seaweed plants.
 
5. Transfer the technology to training and commercial aquaculture operations.
Methodology: 

“Seed stock” will be collected from wild populations of the selected species. The optimization of conditions that can trigger and/or delay transition from one life history stage to the next will be accomplished through a series of laboratory experiments. The system for mass culture of young plants will be designed as a modular system that can be easily expanded to a commercial scale. Additional design considerations will include reliability, simplicity and cost effectiveness. The systems for Porphyra and Chondrus will be developed at the UNH Aquaculture Research Center.

Rationale: 
On a global basis, seaweed aquaculture surpasses the production of finfish, shellfish, and all other marine organisms, and yet seaweed aquaculture production in North America is extremely small. Seaweed is grown primarily for human food, but also as a source of colloids and pharmaceuticals. It has further uses in agriculture as an organic fertilizer and in livestock feed. In Aquaculture, seaweed has been used successfully as a fish-meal replacement in finfish diets and as a food source for abalone and sea urchins. A number of recent studies have examined the use of seaweeds as an “extractive component” in multi-trophic integrated aquaculture systems. A number of seaweed species have been shown to effectively remove excess nutrients produced by the “fed component” (e.g. finfish), thus reducing the nutrient “footprint” of the system. A significant obstacle to the incorporation of seaweed components in commercial integrated aquaculture systems is the absence of a source of young seaweed plants. The proposed project will lay the groundwork for development of a commercial seaweed nursery to supply the aquaculture industry.
Accomplishments: 
2012

Newly Developed Seaweed Aquaculture Methodologies Incorporated into Vocational School Training

RELEVANCE: Seaweeds are capable of extracting fish waste products from the environment and can be incorporated into integrated multi-trophic aquaculture (IMTA) systems. However, the absence of a commercial source of young cold-water marine seaweeds to grow in IMTA systems provided a substantial barrier.
RESPONSE: In 2012, researchers funded by N.H. and Connecticut Sea Grant developed the methodology necessary to seed longlines with spores from the seaweed Gracilaria that are expandable to a commercial scale.
RESULTS: The Bridgeport Regional Vocational Aquaculture School is using this methodology to grow Gracilaria on longlines at its lease site in Long Island Sound and has incorporated the nursery technology into its training programs for students.
RECAP: Sea Grant-funded researchers developed the methodology to grow Gracilaria on longlines, which is now being used at an aquaculture school to train students for future jobs in aquaculture.

Researchers Establish Successful Lab Culture Methodologies for Marine Seaweeds
Seaweeds are capable of extracting fish waste products from the environment and can be incorporated into integrated multi-trophic aquaculture (IMTA) systems. However, the absence of a commercial source of young cold-water marine seaweeds to grow in IMTA systems provided a substantial barrier. In 2012, with funding provided by NHSG, researchers determined the optimum conditions needed for lab culture of seaweed including kelp, Gracilaria and two species of nori. Researchers also determined the optimum conditions needed to get reliable maturation and spore release in one more species of nori (Pyropia leucosticta) that has a complex life history. By establishing successful lab culture methodologies, this research will enable aquaculturists to culture seaweeds for use in commercial scale production.

Protocol Developed for Seaweed Bladelet Storage
NHSG-funded researchers developed a protocol for the successful short- and long-term storage of bladelets of the seaweed Porphyra umbilicalis (nori) through freezing. This protocol helps kelp aquaculturists by providing security in case subsequent spore releases are unsuccessful and serving as a back-up supply in case of crop failure.

2011

 
Multi-trophic Aquaculture Raises Profits while Reducing Pollution
RELEVANCE: As fish aquaculture production increases in New England, there is concern over its environmental impact due to the production of organic and inorganic metabolic waste. Seaweed and filter-feeding shellfish are capable of extracting these waste products from the environment and can be incorporated into multi-trophic aquaculture systems and later harvested for human consumption. However, the absence of a commercial source of young seaweed plants to grow in these systems provided a substantial barrier.
 
RESPONSE: Researchers funded by N.H. and Connecticut Sea Grant developed the technology necessary to establish commercial-scale seaweed nurseries for incorporation into fish and/or shellfish aquaculture operations to remove excess nutrients from the water while providing consumers with locally grown sea vegetables.
 
RESULTS: Ocean Approved LLC (Portland, Maine) is using this technology to seed kelp longlines integrated into their mussel production sites and has sold their kelp product to local retail outlets including Whole Foods. Matunuck Oyster Farm (South Kingston, R.I.) is using it to integrate “Gracilaria” cultivation into their oyster beds. Both companies have benefited economically from the production and sale of these sea vegetables.
 
RECAP: Sea Grant-funded researchers developed the technology to establish seaweed nurseries, thus allowing businesses to effectively utilize multi-trophic aquaculture systems for direct ecological and economic benefits.
 

 

 

The overall goal of the collaborative UNH and UConn project has been to develop the technology necessary for the development of commercial scale seaweed nurseries that can provide young plants for integration into fish and/or shellfish aquaculture operations. We have already succeeded in meeting this goal for kelp (Saccharina latissima), which as a result of the project is now being grown commercially by Ocean Approved LLC (OA) in Portland, Maine. It is an economic benefit for OA as they have been harvesting and successfully marketing kelp through a number of retail outlets including Whole Foods. It is an societal benefit in that consumers have a source of locally grown fresh/frozen sea vegetables. Since seaweeds use nutrients from surrounding waters for growth, harvesting kelp effectively removes excess nutrients from the ecosystem.

 
In summary the accomplishments of this project are:
 
·         We have completed Objective 1 and have established cultures of kelp (Saccharina latissima), Irish moss (Chondrus crispus), Gracilaria tikvahiae, and  five species of nori (Porphyra).
 
·         We have accomplished Objective 2 and found optimum conditions for lab culture of  kelp, Gracilaria and one species of nori. The work is ongoing for the remaining species.
 
·         We have developed reliable systems for seeding longlines with spores from kelp that are expandable to a commericial scale (Objective 3). We have developed methods for seeding lines with vegetative Gracilaria plants that will work on a commercial scale. Work is ongoing for nori and Irish Moss.
 
·         We have completed a first draft of a protocols/manual for cultures maintenance and production of young seaweed plants (Objective 4).
 
·         Objective 5 - Technology for seeding lines with kelp has been transferred to Ocean Approved LLC in Portland ME and they are successfully growing kelp for commercial harvest. Mantunuck Oyster Farm in South Kingston, R.I. is successfully cultivating vegetative Gracilaria plants using methods developed as part of our project.

Publications

Available from the National Sea Grant Library (use NHU number to search) or NH Sea Grant

Journal Article

  • Green, L. and C. Neefus (2015). Effects of temperature, light level, and photoperiod on the physiology of Porphyra umbilicalis Kutzing from the Northwest Atlantic, a candidate for aquaculture. Journal of Applied Phycology, published online 12 September 2015.
  • Nettleton, J., A. Mathieson, C. Thornber, C. Neefus and C. Yarish (2013). Introduction of "Gracilaria vermiculophylla" (Rhodophyta, Gracilariales) to New England, USA: estimated arrival times and current distribution. Rhodora 115(961):28-41, January 2013.
  • Green, L. and C. Neefus (2014). The effects of short- and long-term freezing on "Porphyra umbilicalis" Kützing (Bangiales, Rhodophyta) blade viability. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 461:499-503, 2014.
  • Green, L. and C. Neefus (2015). Effects of temperature, light level, photoperiod, and ammonium concentration on Pyropia leucosticta (Bangiales, Rhodophyta) from the Northwest Atlantic. Journal of Applied Phycology 27(3):1253-1261, June 2015.

Thesis/Dissertation

  • Green, L. (2014). Physiological studies of cultured New England nori, Porphyra umbilicalis Kutzing and Pyropia leucosticta (Thuret) Neefus & J. Brodie, and implications for use in integrated multi-trophic aquaculture systems. Doctoral dissertation, University of New Hampshire.

Guide

  • New England seaweed culture handbook: nursery systems (2014). Sarah Redmond, Lindsay Green, Charles Yarish, Jang Kim and Christopher Neefus.

CD/Video

  • Seaweed culture in New England (6 part video series) (2013)