The University of New England will be part of a new international research and industrial enterprise consortium that will focus on accelerating the development of sustainable aquaculture in nations bordering the Atlantic Ocean.  FILE PHOTO

BIDDEFORD — A new international research and industrial enterprise consortium that includes the University of New England will focus on accelerating the development of sustainable aquaculture in nations bordering the Atlantic Ocean.

UNE was selected as the U.S. representative for the initiative and joins 35 other partners in the $8.9 million project, which is funded by the European Commission.

Called the Horizon 2020 program, the work aims to boost economic development through an emphasis on science, leadership and sustainability, and plans to increase aquaculture production of low-trophic species, or those low on the food chain, in 16 different countries spread across four continents over the next four years. Besides Europe, other international partners are in countries bordering the Atlantic Ocean including Brazil, South Africa, Namibia and Canada.

“It’s an exciting challenge to bring together industry and research partners from across the length and breadth of the Atlantic to address relevant societal challenges,” says Project Coordinator Philip James.

According to Barry Costa-Pierce, executive director of UNE North, UNE’s School of Marine Programs and UNE North’s The Institute for North Atlantic Studies will play substantial roles in developing training and educational pathways to support the region’s growing aquaculture ecosystems.

He said that UNE will partnering with the Norwegian Institute of Food, Fisheries and Aquaculture Research organization to fund travel to partner institutions, collaborate in research and develop best practices.

“It’s a tremendous honor to be the only U.S. institution in the consortium,” said Costa-Pierce. “For UNE faculty and students, AquaVitae provides information and interactions with 35 consortium partners in higher education, national research institutes and industries involved in a wide range of aquaculture disciplines such as hatchery production, processing, resource management, economics, environmental monitoring, product development, marketing and consumer behavior.”

Costa-Pierce said that the project will introduce new low-trophic species, products and processes in marine aquaculture value chains across the Atlantic including five chosen value chains include macroalgae, Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture (IMTA), echinoderm species (such as sea urchins), shellfish and finfish. IMTA is defined as a process that farms several species together using waste from one species as feed for another.

Statistics from Maine’s Department of Marine Resources, said that in 2018 there were 672 aquaculture leases covering nearly 800 acres along the state’s coastline with a total harvest value of $71.75 million.

“In addition, new land-based systems for salmon have been proposed with total investments exceeding $500 million,” Costa-Pierce said.

James said that the value chains were chosen because they offer promising contributions to sustainable food and feed production.

“There is a lot of potential in these value chains and we wish to discover new ways to improve them,” he said.

The initiative strives to match recommendations made in the Food from the Oceans report (2017), which highlighted the need to expand low- and multi-trophic marine aquaculture as an ecologically efficient source of increasing food and feed, James said.

In all, Costa-Pierce said a total of 11 case studies will be conducted during the project, which also will emphasize optimizing production in existing industries such as shellfish and moving toward zero waste and a circular economy in aquaculture.

He said that some of those cross-cutting activities involve research into biosensors, Internet of Things (IoT), product characteristics, market potential, sustainability, environmental monitoring, as well as conducting risk assessments, analyses of value chains, studying profitability and the legal framework.

And, Costa-Pierce said the project also will implement a multi-actor approach to ensure stakeholder involvement in all phases of the project with companies acting as partners of the consortium together with research institutes and universities, which will assist in the establishment of a durable aquaculture industry and research network around the Atlantic Ocean.

— Executive Editor Ed Pierce can be reached at 282-1535 or by email at [email protected]

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