NOAA Sea Grant recently announced over $14 million in federal funding across four strategic areas for improving U.S. aquaculture – with roughly $1.4 million awarded to StriperHub.
Led by North Carolina Sea Grant and NC State University, StriperHub is a multi-partner and multi-regional collaborative project to support the development of a sustainable striped bass aquaculture industry in the United States.
“We’re extremely excited,” says Eric Herbst, North Carolina Sea Grant’s Coastal Aquaculture Specialist. “I think it speaks to the real potential for commercialization of the striped bass aquaculture industry in the U.S.”
Nationally, the selected projects will advance early-stage propagation strategies for various aquaculture species, marine finfish juvenile production technologies, aquaculture collaboratives, and the establishment of an aquaculture information exchange.
“These investments demonstrate Sea Grant’s commitment to sustainably growing U.S. aquaculture throughout coastal and Great Lakes communities,” says Jonathan Pennock, director of NOAA’s National Sea Grant College Program. “The funded projects, which address a variety of challenges, will ensure that growth of the aquaculture sector will be informed by the latest science and community needs.”
NC State’s Russell Borski, StriperHub’s southeast regional coordinator, says taste is part of what makes striped bass a prized species for aquaculture — and a rarity.
“A candidate species has a premium price, high consumer demand, and adapts well to localized production,” Borski says. “Among white-fleshed marine fishes in the U.S., there aren’t many of these. But striped bass meets all the criteria.”
StriperHub also received National Sea Grant funding in 2019 for a project that includes commercial partners and fish farmers in North Carolina who have dedicated a portion of their operations to growing striped bass. Farm-raised striped bass species has proven to be highly marketable in recent years, appearing on menus at local restaurants and sushi bars in the Research Triangle area — but according to researchers, the market is still in its infancy.
The new funding expands the project from the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions to include the Midwest; will further the research and production of commercial striped bass; and will create a consistent distribution network to help develop the striped bass aquaculture industry.
NC State’s Ben Reading is the director of the Pamlico Aquaculture Field Laboratory (PAFL), where a team has selectively bred striped bass for over 30 years to improve growth rates, stress tolerance, disease resistance, and to optimize feed efficiency. The team believes these advantages, in addition to their ability to spawn the fish naturally and without hormones, have primed striped bass for commercial success.
Reading and colleagues are working closely with industry and commercial partners to increase state-wide production by supplying larval and juvenile striped bass to farmers. Farmers have been eager to add striped bass as a complementary species to their operations, as many are already equipped to grow the similar, yet smaller, hybrid striped bass that are a cross between white bass and striped bass.
As of 2022, StiperHub has produced about 14.25 million striped bass fry, when fish are first capable of feeding themselves, and 851,000 striped bass fingerlings, when the fish have developed scales and working fins. To date, StriperHub has supported bringing roughly 89,000 pounds of farm-raised striped bass to North Carolina markets.
Some commercial aquaculture companies are also shifting towards recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) resulting in faster growth and the ability to harvest fish year-round.
“We see a lot of potential for RAS production of striped bass, and we really want to make sure that we can have a year-round supply of fingerlings for commercial operations to stock their grow-out facilities, on almost a monthly basis,” says Herbst.
Research crucial to this will focus on “phase shifting” or out-of-season spawning of the StriperHub broodstock at PAFL. Striped bass naturally spawn in spring, but by altering certain environmental conditions, the team can control the time of year the fish spawn, and thus ensure they have enough supply for commercial farms.
Additionally, the StriperHub team will continue to develop education and training programs, clarify regulatory permitting and licensing procedures, and promote comprehensive outreach and visibility among striped bass producers and consumers, including releasing a revised edition of the industry standard manual: Culture of Striped Bass: 21st Century.
In October, the StriperHub team gave a presentation at the 2022 North Carolina Seafood Festival in Morehead City where Chef Randy Sweat prepared NC farm-raised striped bass with verde salsa and Chef Charles Park made his blackened rockfish recipe, featuring a local name for striped bass. Audience response was positive.
“Outreach is important in helping develop an industry around aquacultured striped bass,” says Frank López, North Carolina Sea Grant’s extension director and StriperHub’s principal investigator and director. “The NC Seafood Festival provided a great opportunity to show North Carolinians the quality taste and versatility of locally grown striped bass.”