Our freshwater projects are mainly used for student research, but have great potential for aquaculture industry development. Projects include freshwater ornamental aquatic plant cultivation (hydroponics), koi production and the development of freshwater fish (largemouth bass) culture in Rhode Island.
In 2002, in response to a weak market for locally grown cranberries, Dale Leavitt worked with a local producer from Ocean Spray to convert a cranberry bog to fish production. This provides an alternative crop while keeping the land in productive use and the pond can quickly revert to cranberry production when the market improves. Fish were successfully and profitably produced for several years until the cost of diesel fuel began to rise. As the pond lacks direct access to utilities, electricity to run the circulation pumps had come from a diesel generator. In 2008, Dr.Leavitt received a planning grant from the EPA that, working cooperatively with the RWU School of Engineering, funded the design of a new pond using solar panels, an alternative and sustainable energy source, to run the pumps. A second EPA grant led to the construction of this new pond in 2010. Follow the EcoRI link below for a recent article on this project: http://www.ecori.org/aquaculture/2012/8/13/rwu-professor-energized-by-solar-fish-farm.html.
Funded through a USDA grant, Dale Leavitt planned and constructed a solar powered FLUPSY – a floating dock/upweller system used for the cultivation of shellfish. This is state-of-the-art for shellfish nursery culture, but currently FLUPSY's must be at a marina so they can be hooked up to a power source. Dr. Leavitt and his team of students from Marine Biology and the School of Engineering made significant improvements to the FLUPSY design so that a smaller pump utilizing less power can be used. In addition, they added solar panels, a battery bank and a back-up system. The proof of concept for this project occurred on campus during fall, 2008 and the unit was first deployed in the field in summer, 2009.
Hydroponics is the science of growing vegetables/herbs without soil. In the past, we have combined hydroponic production with fish cultivation in a single system – the fish provide nutrients for the plants while the plants, in turn, clean up the water for the fish. Both fish and vegetables can be grown and harvested from systems such as these. Effluent environmental management is an important component of fish farming, and plants harvested with the root intact tend to have a longer shelf life.
There is a growing recognition of the diversity, importance and impact of the marine industrial sector to the general economic health of the region. Narragansett Bay is often cited as an economic engine for Rhode Island, but the economic impact is not widely recognized. One attempt to summarize this impact was during the 2-day "Bay Summit" hosted by the DEM in 2000. RWU was greatly involved in that effort, but the conference intent of continued discussion and nurturing was never realized. In April 2007, RWU and the New England Council hosted a one day conference to further explore this topic.
In 2006, we established the first reef ball project in Rhode Island. This emerging technology is being used to establish oyster reefs while the three dimensional structure provides habitat for juvenile fish. The project was funded by a small grant through the Nature Conservancy to David Taylor, and the work is being done collaboratively with the CEED hatchery.
This is a long-term project involving Dale Leavitt and Roxanna Smolowitz in collaboration with Marta Gomez-Chiarri of URI to develop and deploy a local strain of oysters resistant to common diseases.
The highest risk for both wild harvest oysters and oyster farming is disease. Parasitic diseases such as Dermo and MSX have devastated the American oyster industry in the US, resulting in millions of dollars of losses. To counter the impact of disease, strains of oysters resistant to Dermo, MSX, and Juvenile Oyster Disease have been developed through selective breeding. Few of these strains have a Northeast origin and none have been tested in local growing conditions. Thanks to funding through the RI Aquaculture Initiative and the USDA-SARE Program, we have been testing the performance of two putative disease resistant oyster strains (NEH and FMF), and a local RI strain (GHP) at local aquaculture farms.
The second phase of this project, currently underway, is to develop a local line of oysters with disease resistance that will be adapted to local growing conditions. This was accomplished by performing crosses of local oysters with disease resistant strains. The offspring are now being evaluated in the field (a multi-year process) and we anticipate the results being extremely valuable to farmers so they can make informed decisions regarding strain choice.
The Narragansett Bay Commission, which operates the major sewage treatment plants for Rhode Island, recently opened the first phase of the combined sewer outfall (CSO) pollution abatement system – a planned series of tunnels that will collect waste water during rain storms and hold it until it can be properly treated. This is a common, if expensive, solution to the problems of CSO’s and it’s anticipated that this will result in cleaner water in the upper bay. As this might result in the opening of waters long-closed to commercial shellfishing, we are working on an assessment of how this could potentially impact quahog larval supply and distribution, as well as an analysis of production and market impacts if quahog landings from the upper bay increase.
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