A new Department of Agriculture research center for cool- and cold-water aquaculture was dedicated in West Virginia in August. The USDA's Agricultural Research Service operates the new National Center for Cool and Cold Water Aquaculture in Leetown.
Dr. Bill Hershberger, director of the new center, explained that its significance lies in the differences between cool- and warm-water species. The bacterial flora and the viruses that can proliferate between cool- and warm-water species are quite different from each other.
"This is the only center for research on cool- and cold-water species," Dr. Hershberger said. "We're dealing with temperatures that are 62 degrees Fahrenheit and less."
According to ARS Administrator Floyd Horn, the United States ranks only 10th in the world in value of production of aquaculture; thus the need for the center.
"The aquaculture industry is the fastest-growing agriculture commodity in the United States," he said. "These two statistics provide the impetus for creating this research center."
Pathobiology and population medicine professor Dr. Skip Jack of the Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine said that the possibility of drug approvals, the continued provision of wholesome fish for human consumption, and improved health management for hatcheries are only some of the reasons this center will be vital to the profession.
The agency conducts research on catfish at Stoneville, Miss., and on other warm-water species at Stuttgart, Ark. The center's research priorities include fish genetics and breeding, health, nutrition, and production. Scientists will focus initially on trout and other salmonids, and plan to study other species later. Dr. Hershberger confirmed that a major research objective is to develop a physical map of the rainbow trout genome.
"We have a fairly high degree of emphasis on developing a genetic map for rainbow trout," Dr. Hershberger said. "Primarily not for engineering per se, but to guide selection and breeding, and to enhance seed stock."
Currently there are no veterinarians on staff at the new National Center for Cool and Cold Water Aquaculture, and Dr. Hershberger can only speculate that that will change.
"The center does not have a mandate to do diagnoses and clinical work, so I would have to look for a veterinarian who has a research orientation," he said. "We're a research organization; we're here to provide that information to the clinicians."
The new facility includes a tank/aquaria building of approximately 20,000 square feet, and a laboratory and office complex. At full capacity, 12 full-time scientists and 18 support personnel will work at the facility.
The Freshwater Institute, in nearby Shepherdstown, W.Va., will continue to collaborate with the new facility on research programs.