Aquaculture is the farming of aquatic organisms under controlled conditions, primarily for the production of food. As worldwide demand for seafood products expands and more restrictions are placed on the harvesting of wild populations, there exists a clear opportunity for aquaculture to help supply this demand. While freshwater aquaculture is a large and well-established industry in the U.S., land and freshwater resources and suitable species for traditional pond-based aquaculture are becoming increasingly scarce. It is important, therefore, that marine aquaculture ("mariculture") begins to add new species to the list of aquacultured products and becomes a significant part of the industry. Increasing public awareness of the need to protect our fragile environment will require the development of marine aquaculture systems that are ecologically and socially sound.
With rich marine resources for mariculture research and development, a strong tradition based in agriculture and commercial fishing, and a commitment to the growth of biotechnology research, education and business throughout the state, North Carolina is poised to play a leading role in the developing mariculture industry in the U.S. Primary biotechnical constraints to the development of a viable mariculture industry include
- Hatchery technologies that can supply high-quality fingerlings to growout operations. Marine finfish have complex early life stages, and reliable methods must be developed to produce large numbers of quality fingerlings to support growout farms.
- Intensive growout technologies for producing marketable size fish that mitigate high cost of coastal land and environmental permitting requirements.
The Aquaculture Program at UNCW was established to address these constraints and to utilize UNCW's strategic location in coastal North Carolina and its Center for Marine Science to teach environmental responsibility in conjunction with mariculture technology development. The goals are to develop and transfer to commercial users cost-effective, environmentally sound technologies for marine food production and to mitigate depletion of marine populations through commercial cultivation or stock enhancement.