One of the greatest challenges facing many organizations and industries today involves creating and maintaining a community that reflects the rich diversity of our country. The case for diversity and inclusion is clear: a team is more productive and innovative when there is a diversity of skills, ideas, and experiences.
As the U.S. aquaculture industry continues to expand, we have the opportunity to build a community that reflects the stakeholders we serve, while impacting access to sustainable seafood, community health, and climate resilience. There are already a number of great organizations working in this space, including:
- Newly formed Minorities in Aquaculture
- American Fisheries Society’s Hutton Junior Fisheries Biology Program
- Women in Aquaculture
- Kuaʻāina Ulu ʻAuamo (KUA)
In the coming year, NOAA’s Office of Aquaculture will focus on highlighting and fostering diversity in aquaculture on a number of fronts. These efforts include launching a diversity in aquaculture web series to highlight the accomplishments, benefits, and barriers to diversity in the industry. This series will feature leaders, students, business owners, and community advocates that are working to ensure that farmed seafood is an inclusive space.
It takes enthusiasts with various skill sets, backgrounds, and perspectives to meet the unique challenges of natural resource management. Unfortunately, many aspiring scientists drop out of STEM majors due to factors such as limited recruitment, lack of representation, or unwelcoming environments. Building pathways into STEM fields is critical to encourage rising aquaculturists.
Since 2001, NOAA’s José E. Serrano Educational Partnership Program with Minority Serving Institutions Cooperative Science Center institutions have:
- Awarded half of the Ph.D. degrees earned by black graduates in atmospheric science
- Awarded over half of the Ph.D. degrees earned by black graduates in marine science
- Awarded 2,325 EPP/MSI-supported Ph.D. degrees in NOAA sciences
Since 2005, Hollings scholarships have supported more than 1,900 students from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and three territories.
Through the years, staff from NOAA’s Aquaculture Program have visited and presented to students about our work to foster marine aquaculture. We are now looking to expand our reach. Through collaborative work with NOAA’s Office of Education, an aquaculture literacy effort is underway. It will help us expand access to aquaculture education material and create a community of practice with aquaria, Sea Grant extension specialists, and industry to increase aquaculture outreach.
Cultivating Seafood and Diversity
Fortunately, there is a growing response to the lack of diversity and inclusion in fisheries and ocean science. Nonprofit organizations, such as the Billion Oyster Project, are helping introduce students from all backgrounds to shellfish restoration and the concept of healthy ocean management. Waterman Gardner Douglas gives a voice to people from different facets of aquaculture on his Oyster Ninja podcast. On the Hawaiian island of Oahu, Kualoa Ranch demonstrates the thousand-year-old indigenous practice of fishpond aquaculture.
In order to achieve our goals as an agency and industry we must not only strive for diversity and inclusion, but we must celebrate it. From women entrepreneurs running their farms, to grassroots organizations working to increase community health, to the mentors fostering the next generation of aquaculture leaders, these efforts matter and make our space more accessible.