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Omics Technological Advances in Aquaculture


Marine aquaculture is the fastest-growing form of food production globally. In the United States, marine aquaculture contributes to the supply of seafood, supports commercial fisheries, and promotes job growth. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 50% of world seafood production comes from aquaculture (88M tonnes out of 178M tonnes in 2020). NIST has pioneered metabolomics to advance aquaculture science, enhance U.S. production, and improve food sustainability. NIST's work is crucial to responsible marine aquaculture in meeting the growing global demand for food.


Atlantic salmon fish on a ruler, measuring about 47 cm from head to tail

Atlantic salmon from a dietary study comparing an insect meal-based diet with a commercial fishmeal-based diet.

Credit: Dr. Allen Place, Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences
  • According to the NOAA Fisheries of the U.S. report, in 2020 U.S. seafood consumption was estimated at ~6B pounds with Atlantic salmon being one of the top 3 valued items.
  • Approximately 85% of U.S. seafood consumption is imported, and U.S. exports have seen a significant decline with an annual trade deficit of ~$17B in 2020. Globally, the U.S. ranked only 18th in aquaculture production (2020).
  • NIST aims to enhance aquaculture science to promote industry growth and reduce waste by addressing key questions related to fish health, nutrition, and reproduction using state-of-the-art omics technologies.

Current Projects

Alternative Feeds for Aquaculture: Feeds are the most expensive aspect of the aquaculture industry, and they have a significant impact on the success and sustainability of aquaculture.  Proteins and fats are the primary constituents of feeds. High demand and rapid growth in aquaculture have led to increased feed prices and environmental risks.  In efforts to minimize these costs and produce nutritional products for consumers, the use of alternate protein sources is being investigated. In collaboration with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) and the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology (IMET), NIST is using NMR-based metabolomics to evaluate insect meal, a more sustainable protein alternative to fishmeal, in Atlantic salmon aquaculture feeds. 

Tools for Improving Reproductive Fitness: The production of Atlantic salmon in marine aquaculture has dropped by over 35% since 2000, partially due to decreased embryo survival rates.  In collaboration with the USDA and the University of Maine, NIST is developing measurement techniques for assessing broodstock quality through skin mucus swabs to develop a non-lethal in-field reproductive quality assessment tool for aquaculture managers. Skin mucus from high-yield broodstock and low-yield broodstock are being assessed using NMR metabolomics and steroid profiling using LC-MS/MS to identify biomarkers of successful broodstock via machine learning.  This tool will allow low-yield broodstock to be culled earlier in development, effectively decreasing the financial and physical resources needed to rear broodstock to reproductive maturity and increasing the reproductive success of mating pairs. These outcomes will vastly improve the environmental sustainability of aquacultural farming.

Created November 28, 2023, Updated April 29, 2024