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Sturgeon, fresh from the farm.

Farm-raised sturgeon, anyone? You may find'em on your menu sooner than you think.

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New technologies and new laws may kickstart the aquaculture industry in Florida and the Gulf of Mexico and that could be good news for anglers facing the recent spate of limit-tightening on Florida reef fish. An increased supply of good quality farm-raised fish to the market could lessen the demand for commercially caught wild fish and reduce the impacts of landings reductions called for in those stock rebuilding plans.

The Gulf Council gave the go ahead last year to aquaculture operations in Gulf waters, and in September, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration agreed to develop a comprehensive national policy for sustainable marine aquaculture in federal waters. (For more, go to www.gulfcouncil.org/beta/GMFMweb/aquacuture.htm)

"I really believe that in Florida we have all the necessary conditions to create a terrific aquaculture industry," says Dr. Kevan Main, of Mote Marine Laboratory.

At their unassuming facility on Fruitville Road near Sarasota, Mote's teams, led by Main, Director of Aquaculture Research and Development, and Dr. Ken Leber, Director of Mote's Center for Fisheries Enhancement, have not only been producing sturgeon for the market--both for caviar and for fillets (Siberian sturgeon, not any of Florida's three protected sturgeon species--Gulf, Atlantic and shortnose)--but they've been refining scientific techniques of sustainable, land-based saltwater tank aquaculture for commercially viable domestic species such as pompano.

In a 30-by-30 foot room in the Fruitville Road facility, about 25 pompano--two thirds male and one third females--swim circles in a tank surrounded by lighting systems that simulate sunrise and sunset and a center light that mimics the moon.

"The Mote pompano work is centered on developing the hatchery technology to produce juvenile pompano that could go into either landbased tank systems for food fish, to offshore caged facilities, or to the ocean for stock enhancements," said Main. "We have a grand through NOAA's National Marine Aquaculture Initiative to work on hatchery technology. So many of the important fish in the U.S. have not had that hatchery technology developed yet."

There are already successful offshore aquaculture projects in Hawaii, off Oahu and the Big Island, and there's also a project in Puerto Rico where they're raising cobia. New Hampshire also has a successful offshore aquaculture program, and Florida's own Cedar Key clam farms are a local success story.

"Even in the Big Bend," said Dr. Ken Leber, "the scallop populations are depleted in some areas, and turning around the scallop populations could be a success story.

Mote actually has a scallop project in Charlotte Harbor and they've seen some really encouraging results."

Mote scientists see a day when aquaculture becomes viable on many fronts, even as an attractive alternative crop for Florida farmers who now work citrus crops and cattle.

Leber, Main and their teams of researchers and workers have made big strides in two critical concerns of sustainable aquaculture--feed and water management. They've developed more efficient feeding techniques that deliver proper nutrition without overloading the water with nutrients. While the sturgeon are fed a commercially manufactured pelleted diet that meets the specific dietary requirements of Siberian sturgeon, the pompano broodstock are fed a specialized diet made on location, containing fresh-frozen shrimp, squid and herring, along with a vitamin and fatty acid supplement. The Mote team has also made advances in waste treatment of solids and in bacterial purification of tank waters that reduce the amount of water needed to run the grow tanks and allow better recycling of wastewater and waste products.

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"Water is a precious resource, especially here in Florida," says Nadine Slimak of Mote," and so we've focused on reusing and recycling water and being as self sustainable as possible and using as little water as possible."

All the water used in the fish production systems at Mote stays on the grounds, and they use the byproducts, including that water, to grow aquatic plants that are in turn used for wetland restoration projects throughout Florida.

Mote's commercial sturgeon program has already achieved success in the market place, both in its production and sale of caviar--sturgeon roe--and in its sale of meat. They have about 150,000 metric tons of sturgeon in grow-out tanks at their facility and they have contracts with Petrossian, the world's largest caviar dealer, for their product. The sturgeon meat is distributed through Fulton Fish Market in New York City and is sold in many higher-end South Florida restaurants. In southwest Florida, about a dozen restaurants serve the Mote-raised sturgeon.

I cooked some sturgeon myself, and I endorse it completely, and I cook a lot of good fish. I'd describe the sturgeon as a white salmon, great on the grill, with a delicate, and mildly rich flavor and a compact textured meat that breaks into big flakes when cooked. Considering that sustainability of food sources is one of the chief concerns among chefs in the U.S. right now, the farm-raised sturgeon should be seeing a lot of taste tests in the near future.

For more information about the Mote sturgeon aquaculture program and for sturgeon recipes, check out www.mote.org/caviar.

--David Conway, Managing Editor

BREAKING NEWS: Atlantic Red Snapper Closing

* All fishing for red snapper in the South Atlantic management area closes January 4 under a new emergency order issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service. The highly controversial closure is considered likely to last through 2010, followed by a regular rule proposed to continue for years ahead ... See coverage at www.floridasportsman.com
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Title Annotation:On the Conservation Front
Author:Conway, David
Publication:Florida Sportsman
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2010
Words:924
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