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Fishing for Success

Posted by Stephanie Rogers on November 23, 2015 in News, Research

Getting food from the field to your plate can be a complex undertaking. Faculty, staff, researchers and students in Dal’s Faculty of Agriculture are studying what we eat, how we produce it and why we choose what we do. This work is helping improve today’s farming and processing methods, as well as educating the food policy makers and scientists of tomorrow.

Fishing for success

Jim Duston peers into an enclosure of fish, his green waterproof lab coat keeping him dry, as the creatures spin and swirl just below the surface. The grey and silver-scaled fish, most between two and three feet long, are striped bass and Dr. Duston thinks that these 10- to 30-pounders could be the key to revitalizing Nova Scotia’s fishing industry, an industry he says is over-reliant on Atlantic salmon and trout. He and his research team are looking at ways to diversify the industry.

Striped bass is in high demand in American restaurants. The species’ high quality white meat is a customer-pleaser, but with the collapse of the wild population in the 1980s due to over fishing, there is now strict quota on wild striped bass. And although the population is recovering, small wild fisheries cannot support the demand for the product.

“This leaves an opportunity for farmed fish,” Dr. Duston explains.  Aquaculture, or fish farming, is expanding worldwide faster than any other animal production system and accounts for well over 50 per cent of the seafood consumed globally.

Dr. Duston’s research is looking at how to effectively and efficiently farm striped bass. He began his research in the late 1990s by retrieving eggs from the Stewiacke River. The fish grew to adult size, which takes about six years and then became the ‘broodstock’ which produce the eggs and milt (seminal fluid) for the cultured fish.

Striped bass are challenging to grow, especially from eggs and into the early larval stages. Dr. Duston is looking at tank-based experiments to gain insight into the ecophysiology of the fish—how it adapts to its environmental conditions—and is also conducting field survey work in the Shubenacadie River, studying striped bass nursery habitats.

“It’s important we learn more about the factors affecting survival and growth,” Dr. Duston explains. His goal? To make striped bass a commercially farmed fish in the region.