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Freshwater Institute Developing their Next 5-Year USDA Research Work Plan

freshwater institute

Freshwater Institute Developing their Next 5-Year USDA Research Work Plan


By Chris Good, Director of Research

For the several decades, The Conservation Fund’s Freshwater Institute (FWI; Shepherdstown, WV) has carried out research to support the growth of the U.S. aquaculture industry through land-based fish production utilizing water recirculation aquaculture system (RAS) technologies. The majority of funding to support FWI’s aquaculture research program has been through the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS), with research priorities driven by industry needs. The most recent USDA-ARS aquaculture Action Plan is now available online. 

The Conservation Fund’s Freshwater Institute, Shepherdstown, West Virginia.

During 2024, FWI will be developing new research objectives for the next 5-year USDA-ARS cycle, and among other things will be focusing on the following five areas of study:

RAS production of coho salmon. Past research at FWI has focused on rainbow trout, arctic charr and Atlantic salmon performance, health and welfare when raised to harvest size in freshwater RAS. Lately, however, there has been significant interest in coho salmon as an alternative salmonid species for production in RAS facilities. Coho salmon can demonstrate excellent growth performance, and furthermore there is an openly available commercial source for eyed eggs in the U.S.; however, environmental and husbandry factors (temperature regimes, photoperiod, feeds and feed practices, etc.) for intensively cultured coho salmon production have yet to be optimized. FWI will be aiming to examine different rearing regimes to provide interested stakeholders with recommendations for ways to improve growth performance and other important outcomes for coho salmon.

Atlantic salmon performance in freshwater RAS. FWI will continue its research on optimizing Atlantic salmon production to harvest size in freshwater RAS, with a focus on domestic strains to support the long-term development of domestically available Atlantic salmon egg supply.

Reducing early Atlantic salmon maturation. Atlantic salmon are very flexible in the timing of sexual maturation onset, and early maturation (i.e., pre-harvest) can reduce fillet quality, leading to a downgraded product and less revenue for producers. The FWI will continue to investigate environmental manipulation of a range of factors (photoperiod, temperature, feeding, etc.) in an effort to reduce early maturation for freshwater-reared Atlantic salmon.

The Freshwater Institute’s semi-commercial scale RAS with 40,000 gallon culture tank, pictured here stocked with harvest-sized (4 kg) Atlantic salmon.

Waste-to-value. Developing alternative revenue streams for U.S. fish farmers will help support the economic growth of the domestic aquaculture industry. FWI will continue researching the production of sellable products, such as compost and biogas, that are derived from aquaculture waste products, such as solid waste and fish mortalities.

Precision Aquaculture. While precision technologies are being developed and applied more and more in other agricultural sectors, aquaculture has been somewhat behind in this area. FWI plans to continue developing and/or assessing artificial intelligence-assisted technologies that will provide farmers with real-time information on a number of important outcomes, including growth performance, fish health issues, off-flavor levels, and system and mortality alerts.

FWI is looking forward to continuing to provide U.S. farmers with high quality and industry-relevant research outcomes. As always, all past and ongoing research papers (peer-reviewed and trade press) are available free-of-charge for download at FWI’s website (

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