Texas-led team‘s dietary supplement study receives national marine aquaculture award

September 21, 2006

COLLEGE STATION — A research project led by a Texas A&M University professor to study how dietary supplements might enhance the growth and health of red drum and Atlantic salmon was among those selected under a nationwide program of $3.6 million in grants for sustainable marine aquaculture demonstration projects and research.

The $199,103, one-year grant to Dr. Delbert Gatlin III of TAMU and an international team of researchers, including William Neill of TAMU, Barbara Grisdale-Helland of the Aquaculture Protein Centre of Norway, Sunndalsora, Norway, and Michael Hume of the USDA/Agricultural Research Service Southern Plains Agricultural Research Center, Food and Feed Safety Research Unit, was awarded under the 2006 National Marine Aquaculture Initiative, which is managed by the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Aquaculture Program and administered by the Sea Grant College Program.

Gatlin and his colleagues will test three prebiotics, food substances that promote the growth of certain beneficial bacteria in the fishes’ intestines. Prebiotics are indigestible carbohydrates — in this case, fructooligosaccharide, mannanoligosaccharide and transgalactooligosaccharide.

In terrestrial species, studies have shown that, in addition to stimulating the growth of selected populations of intestinal bacteria that may improve an animal’s health and disease resistance, prebiotics can also improve overall growth and the animal’s ability to digest and make better use of nutrients in its food.

“The use of dietary prebiotics holds tremendous promise as an emerging technology to improve the environmental sustainability and efficiency of marine aquaculture for commercial purposes and stock enhancement,” Gatlin said. “In particular, prebiotics have the potential to greatly improve the nutritive value of plant and bacterial protein feedstuffs, thus sparing marine feedstuffs now in use.”

Aquaculture production of red drum and Atlantic salmon is well-established in North America, although the greatest commercial production of salmon occurs in Norway and Chile. The basic nutrient requirements of the two fish species are well-known, so nutritionally complete diets are readily produced. Further enhancing the fishes’ ability to utilize the nutrients in their diets, however, can reduce production costs, limit the introduction of excessive nutrients in the environment, improve overall fish production and the quality of the fish that are grown, and enhance disease resistance and thus reduce the need for drugs to keep the fishes free from infections diseases.

The researchers selected a warmwater species (red drum) and a coldwater species (Atlantic salmon) with the expectation that if the prebiotics are proven to have a positive effect on both species, they should also be of value in aquaculture efforts with a wide range of other fish species in varying climates and their use can be adopted fairly quickly. Experiments on red drum will be conducted in Texas, building on more than 15 years of NOAA-supported research on red drum, while the portion of the project focusing on Atlantic salmon will take place in Norway at the Aquaculture Protein Centre.

The project was one of more than 200 totaling $75 million that were submitted for funding for the 2006 initiative. Texas researchers also are lending their expertise to two funded projects led by researchers with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. Joan Holt, professor of marine science and associate director of fisheries and mariculture at The University of Texas Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas, is a member of the research team that is studying aquaculture development and fishery enhancement of cobia. Tzachi Samocha, a professor at the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station Flour Bluff Shrimp Mariculture Laboratory and at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, is co-investigator on a project focusing on the commercialization of bait shrimp farming based on specific pathogen-free stocks. For the second project, Texas Sea Grant staff members, including Granvil Treece, aquaculture specialist, will conduct the education and information transfer of the results of the study.

The other 2006 grants range from $150,000 to $505,000 and support projects that assess the commercial potential of marine aquaculture, the feasibility of stock enhancement and the environmental impacts of aquaculture in various ecosystems, including specifically the genome mapping of striped bass, the culture of California yellowtail and the assessment of environmental impacts of offshore cage culture.

The grants approved for the 2006 initiative mesh with NOAA’s goals of enhancing economic opportunities for developing marine aquaculture in the United States by supporting technology that will increase production efficiency through more environmentally and economically sustainable practices. The initiative also supports the U.S. Ocean Action Plan, which acknowledges the growing significance of domestic marine aquaculture for seafood production and the need for a federal regulatory framework for marine aquaculture. Since 1998, the National Marine Aquaculture Initiative has funded $15 million in research projects to boost the domestic production of commercially and recreationally valuable marine shellfish and finfish species.

Currently, aquaculture is gaining momentum faster than any other form of food production worldwide, based on an unprecedented level of demand for seafood. At the current per capita consumption of one seafood meal a week, coupled with a modest increase in population, the United States will need an additional two million tons per year of seafood by 2025 to meet demand. Imports already make up more than 70 percent of the seafood consumed in the United States, and at least 40 percent of that imported seafood is farmed.


Texas Sea Grant is a unique partnership that unites the resources of the federal government, the State of Texas and universities across the state to create knowledge, tools, products and services that benefit the economy, the environment and the citizens of Texas. It is administered through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and is one of 33 university-based Sea Grant Programs around the country. Texas Sea Grant is a non-academic research center in the College of Geosciences at Texas A&M University. The program’s mission is to improve the understanding, wise use and stewardship of Texas coastal and marine resources.