The National Sea Grant College Program (Sea Grant) from the United States has announced the 2022-2023 funded New Hampshire’s research projects, focusing on development of new species for seaweed aquaculture, safe handling techniques for oyster farms, seafood nutrition equity, PFAS in marine food webs, mapping lumpfish populations and eelgrass in Great Bay. The projects represent a research investment of USD 1.4 million.

The network of 34 university-based programs is launching six new research projects focusing on expanding their understanding of New Hampshire’s marine environment, building resilient coastal communities and economies, promoting healthy coastal ecosystems, and improving environmental literacy.

The expected two-year funded 2022-2023 research projects will be led by scientists from New Hampshire institutions and will incorporate outreach and education efforts as critical components of their plans. The projects represent a research investment of $1.4 million from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other non-federal matching funds.

The lumpfish, a small ‘cleaner fish’

The first of the projects is the ‘Lumpfish Mapping Project’ leaded for Elizabeth Fairchild, also form the University of New Hampshire. It is about one unique species that is expected to shift as waters warm is the lumpfish – a small ‘cleaner fish’ that is increasingly used in aquaculture overseas as a natural solution to parasites on fish like salmon.

The team led by Fairchild will describe and map the range of lumpfish in the Gulf of Maine. They’ll create an online interactive map to share their findings with fisheries professionals, other researchers, and the public to understand this dynamic little fish. The Gulf of Maine is one of the fastest warming parts of the world’s oceans. We’re already seeing shifts in the range of some marine species like Black Sea Bass. One unique species that is expected to shift as waters warm is the lumpfish.

As US finfish aquaculture operations grow, lumpfish may be used as a solution for parasites and therefore be harvested. Baseline data on a potential fishery is vital information for future managers, fishermen, and conservationists.

Vegetable aquaculture industry

Other interesting project is ‘Diversifying the New England Sea Vegetable Aquaculture Industry – Phase II: Line Seeding Technology and Grow-out Trials for Longline Nori Production’, presented for Chris Neefus, of the Department of Biological Sciences at UNH.

Seaweed aquaculture has exploded in the Gulf of Maine in the last ten years, with more than 140 kelp farms operating along the coast of Maine and New Hampshire. However, most of these farms depend on a single species – sugar kelp. Neefus, is developing the next sea vegetable for the Gulf of Maine – Wildemania amplissima, a local species of nori – the seaweed used in sushi and produced in a multibillion-dollar industry in Asia.

This species grows to a similar size and in similar conditions to sugar kelp, but in spring and early summer instead of sugar kelp’s winter season, diversifying farms’ business without requiring big changes in practices or gear. Neefus will determine how best to seed and grow nori. The project will share its results with Gulf of Maine aquaculture operations in partnership with New Hampshire and Maine Sea Grant extension and outreach teams to help a growing industry become more resilient and profitable.

Oyster aquaculture

Also related to the aquaculture activity is the project ‘Promoting the sustainability of New Hampshire oyster aquaculture by improving pathogenic Vibrio management tools and contingencies’, created for Cheryl Whistler, professor of molecular, cellular, and biomedical science at the UNH.

Though infections by the bacterium Vibrio parahaemolyticus have increased in the Northeast, New Hampshire and Maine have avoided any Vibrio-linked illness. “However, we don’t know exactly how risky importing seed from these areas is, and farmers could benefit from diversifying seed sources”.

Therefore, Whistler will investigate the actual risk of Vibrio contamination through seed transport, explore mitigation measures like salt relay and microbiome resistance, and improve detection of harmful Vibrio strains. Whistler’s work will help New Hampshire aquaculture continue growing, keep its product healthy, and inform future policy protecting New Hampshire waters from Vibrio pathogens.

More initiatives

Other project is the one leaded for Sherman Bigornia, assistant professor in the Department of Agriculture, Nutrition, and Food Systems at UNH, it is about development and evaluation of a culturally tailored online nutrition education program targeting fish consumption among Hispanic adults. To address this gap, Bigornia and partners will develop an online nutrition program based on narrative communication for behavior change to encourage low-income Hispanic adults in New Hampshire to eat fish.

Also, was approved the project ‘Factors influencing PFAS (perfluoroalkyl substances) bioaccumulation and biomagnification in marine food webs associated with AFFF sources in a New England estuary, managed for Celia Chan, from Dartmouth College. Chen’s research will help to understand the risk of PFAS exposure through eating seafood from places like Great Bay.

Finally, ‘What ‘goes with the flow’? Linking Zostera marina reproduction and genetic diversity with oceanographic drivers in Great Bay Estuary’ is the name of the project created for Cynthia Hays, from Keene State College. She and her team will be exploring the links between hydrodynamics, reproduction, and genetic diversity of eelgrass in the Great Bay estuary through molecular genetics, field measurements, and mathematical models.

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