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technician in a lavral fish rearing room
A PACRC technician sets algae flow rates in the larval fish rearing room.

The University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo is part of a new consortium funded by a federal grant of nearly $1 million to address critical economic and marketing gaps in the country’s aquaculture industry. Aquaculture is the farming of aquatic life, such as fish and shellfish, in controlled environments like ponds or tanks. The multi-state and island project will emphasize building bridges across a range of geographic regions between researchers, industry leaders, and state extension services.

two people, with one holding a fish
Moi is transferred to a new tank at UH Hilo’s PACRC site in Keaukaha

“With record production of $90 million in 2023, aquaculture is now one of the largest contributors in agricultural production in Hawaiʻi, yet key information for planning and decision-making is lacking,” said Maria Haws, an aquaculture professor at UH Hilo. Haws is based at the university’s Pacific Aquaculture and Coastal Resource Center (PACRC) in Keaukaha, Hilo Bay.

According to Haws, the gap in key information is due to the highly diverse nature of production methods, systems, and species that are cultured in Hawaiʻi. Aquaculture spans from breeding shrimp in land-based systems to farming hamachi (kāhala) in open-ocean cages. However, current studies fail to capture the economic dynamics of these diverse regions.

Hawaiʻi and the U.S.-affiliated Pacific Islands have relatively weak capacity for aquaculture economics since there are no dedicated aquaculture economists, although some economic specialists contribute to research in this area,” Haws said. “Results from this work, as well as the relationships developed through the consortium, will help compensate for this.”

Hawaiʻi expertise

PACRC will lead the Hawaiʻi component of the project and develop educational materials, online tools for industry and other users, and assist with farm economic studies.

hand holding an oyster
UH Hilo aquaculture technician holding an oyster.

Diverse collaboration

Project collaborators are a geographically diverse group of economists and extension specialists with backgrounds in freshwater, coastal, marine, and recirculating aquaculture systems. Led by Virginia Tech, a public land-grant research university, the group also draws expertise from institutions across the nation such as Mississippi State University, Texas A&M University, University of Maryland, University of Alaska, Morgan State University, Maine Aquaculture Association, University of Guam and University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, to address challenges facing the domestic aquaculture industry.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Sea Grant is providing funding for the establishment of the Aquaculture Economics and Markets Collaborative over the next two years.

For more go to UH Hilo Stores.

—By Susan Enright

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