MSU continues international leadership in aquaculture, world’s fastest-growing food production sector

Dr. Basant Gomma, left, a graduate student in MSU's College of Veterinary Medicine, works alongside CVM Professor Dr. Mark Lawrence to observe fish while conducting research for the MSU-led Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Fish. The USAID-funded initiative aims to improve nutrition, food security and livelihoods in developing countries by supporting the sustainable development of aquatic habitats and fisheries. Lawrence serves as director of the Fish Innovation Lab. (photo by Beth Wynn / © Mississippi State University)

As aquaculture and fisheries play an increasingly important role in addressing global food security, Mississippi State University is continuing to build its reputation as an international leader in the field.

In addition to leading the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Fish, MSU is playing a key role in developing a Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) program to improve aquaculture biosecurity in developing countries. Closer to home, MSU is conducting aquaculture research and extension in support of Mississippi producers. Researchers also are rehabilitating and studying sea turtles and dolphins in the Mississippi Sound to gain insight into the ecosystem’s overall health.

“As the world population continues to grow, aquaculture and fisheries represent an important part of the effort to put food on everybody’s table,” MSU President Mark E. Keenum said. “Like every area of food production, aquaculture has many challenges that producers must navigate, but I am proud of the role MSU is playing at the state, national and international levels to develop solutions that will help achieve global food security.

“Our partnerships with institutions like USAID and FAO are a testament to the outstanding capabilities and leadership of our researchers in this field. I am confident these efforts will generate even more opportunities for MSU to grow its role as a leader in international aquaculture development.”

MSU’s Global Center for Aquatic Food Security was founded to leverage the university’s aquatic food security expertise, developed in support of Mississippi aquaculture production, to pursue international development in the area. The center is led by Dr. Mark Lawrence, a professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine and director of the Fish Innovation Lab.

Since MSU was selected to lead the Fish Innovation Lab in late 2018, the university has worked with its partners to develop the national and international networks needed to carry out the work, as well as solicit proposals for and fund projects in several developing countries. The COVID-19 pandemic has limited international travel, but Lawrence said key partners continue to connect with each other virtually.

MSU has a longstanding relationship with FAO that includes several projects focused on aquaculture health and biosecurity. For the last two years, MSU has been working with FAO to develop a progressive management pathway for aquaculture biosecurity in developing countries. The program creates a four-level development plan for countries to keep their fish supply safe from animal diseases and develop emergency response plans. MSU is recognized as a Center for Knowledge for Aquatic Health by the FAO. The university is in the process of becoming an official FAO Reference Center for Aquaculture Biosecurity, further positioning MSU to assist in global fish health efforts.

Lawrence said fish can play an important role in preventing “hidden hunger” or nutritional stunting, which occurs when people receive sufficient calories, but insufficient nutrients and vitamins because of an imbalanced diet.

“If we can make more fish available in developing countries, it can go a long way in reducing nutritional deficiencies,” Lawrence said. “Reducing childhood nutritional stunting is a major goal of the United Nations and other international agencies, and fish can play a really important role in helping alleviate that problem.”

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