By Heather Sadusky
A little known resource hiding on Virginia Key, across the water from bustling downtown Miami is the state-of-the-art University of Miami Experimental Hatchery. On the contrary, aquaculture students know this place very well; it’s where they spend hours every week cleaning the tanks, feeding the fish, and conducting research for a master’s thesis or PhD. As the name implies, the hatchery is for research, and does not produce fish for commercial consumption. This means a variety of species can be raised, and research has covered everything from cobia to grouper to stone crabs.
Currently, the UMEH is raising juvenile dolphinfish, also known as mahi mahi or dorado, to support scientific research in the Gulf of Mexico. The organization RESTORE is studying the effects the BP oil blowout has had on mahi. Thus far, it has been found that young mahi impacted by oil suffer effects on their hearts which results in reduced performance, for example, lowered endurance when swimming at high speeds. In the natural world, a slower fish is more likely to become prey.
The UMEH is also very involved with cobia rearing, particularly because one graduate went on to open a cobia hatchery in Panama called Open Blue Sea Farms, whose cobia eggs come from the UMEH. Cobia research continues at the hatchery, where students look into larval rearing and best practices for maintaining the health of the breeding fish, known as broodstock.
Other research projects at the UMEH include attempts at hogfish rearing, dependent upon whether the fish can be induced to spawn outside its natural habitat; studies on grouper reproduction, development and behavior to ensure their future conservation; and the effects of tweaking the feed ingredients, pH levels, sunlight exposure, and more to further understand how to best grow fish.
As a student of aquaculture, there is no better substitute for the hands on learning that is found at the UMEH. Those who aim to work with oysters, tuna, grouper, and even seaweeds spend their time at the university’s hatchery to gain experience in operations and test an idea. They are the next generation of fish farmers, armed with more knowledge about aquaculture than has ever been available before.