Genetics and genomics are powerful biological tools for studying fish and fish populations. Just as genetic techniques are used in agriculture to select for and breed crops or animals with desired traits, these tools can be used in aquaculture. Genetic selection in aquaculture may focus on desirable traits, such as improved growth rate, disease resistance, feed conversion, or product quality. In addition to increasing profitability, farmed fish with these traits can increase resource efficiency and environmental sustainability of aquaculture operations by producing less waste, posing less of a disease risk, and using feed more efficiently. Genomics allows for broader genome-wide studies, better detection capabilities and cost effectiveness.
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Farmed and wild fish, like all animals, are susceptible to bacterial, viral and parasitic infections. Healthy farmed fish are advantageous to both aquaculturists and natural resource managers. Fish farmers depend on high survival rates and marketing healthy fish in order to keep businesses operating.
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Fish, both farmed and wild, require a balanced mix of essential nutrients, amino acids, fatty acids and energy. Traditionally, fish feeds have contained a high percentage of fishmeal and fish oil because the balance of nutrients most closely resemble the requirements of fish. However, partial or total replacement of fishmeal and fish oil in feeds is becoming the norm. Feeds eliminating these ingredients have been used experimentally to feed farmed Atlantic Salmon, Rainbow Trout, Red Sea Bream, Grouper, White Sea Bass, and Cobia. Fish in these studies show similar growth and survival to those fed on feeds containing fish meal and fish oil.
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Impacts to the environment around finfish farms can occur when nutrient inputs exceed the capacity of the ecosystem to assimilate them. Uneaten feed and fish wastes are the main sources of excess organic nutrients from finfish farms. However, many potential environmental impacts and risks can be avoided with prudent farm siting, proper management, and modern technologoies. Modeling interactions between farm production and environmental processes can guide decisions about industry location and practices to prevent exceeding a site’s ecological carrying capacity.
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