Heidi Duncanson | Communications Coordinator
Just off New Hampshire’s coast, innovative aquaculture research is taking place and is now being featured at Seacoast Science Center. A University of New Hampshire research tank is one of the key elements in the Center’s newly opened Our Dynamic Gulf of Maine exhibition. This tank will showcase different research projects conducted by UNH’s School of Marine Science and Ocean Engineering.
At the Judd Gregg Marine Research Complex in New Castle, New Hampshire Sea Grant’s AquaFort research program has designed an Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture (IMTA) system that allows multiple species to grow at the same time within a single floating structure. The goals of this research include increased investment and employment opportunities in sustainable aquaculture; production of fresh local seafood; and reduced reliance on seafood imports. The AquaFort is funded by the national Sea Grant College Program, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Researcher Mike Doherty, M.S., actually began his career at Seacoast Science Center and is happy to have the opportunity to shine a spotlight on marine research for the many SSC visitors. “I have been participating in this and related research since 2019 under the direction of professors Elizabeth Fairchild and Michael Chambers,” he explained, “and am proud of how this project has evolved as we’ve partnered with local fishermen and learned more about the grow cycles of different species.”
The research currently being featured at Seacoast Science Center includes four different species in the same tank: steelhead trout, lumpfish, blue mussels and sugar kelp. The trout are grown within 20’ x 20’ floating net pens, while seeded strings of mussels are suspended vertically from the pen frames alongside juvenile kelp. Steelhead trout were chosen as an alternative to salmon, which is already widely farmed worldwide. Growing blue mussels and kelp in the same system as the trout helps mitigate the nutrient load released into the water by the trout, and lumpfish can be added to the model to clean sea lice off the trout, keeping them healthier.
When a grow cycle is complete, approximately 30,000 pounds of trout and 10,000 pounds of mussels can be sold to local seafood suppliers, helping diversify their offerings and provide an economic supplement to their business. There is also a growing market for kelp among chefs, restaurants and even breweries, where beer on the Seacoast is being brewed with kelp.
Doherty and his colleagues will be continuing research to help the local seafood community diversify its products and become more resilient to climate change. “Species make-up in the Gulf of Maine is changing due to warming waters so we hope to find ways to help the community become more resilient to climate change.”