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Annual Public Lectures Series > Richard Langan

Scientists and Journalists:
Getting the Point Across
June 9-13, 2008

Monday, June 9, 3:30 p.m.
Realizing the Vision for Open Ocean Aquaculture
Richard Langan, Director, Atlantic Marine Aquaculture Center, University of New Hampshire


Richard Langan, director of the Atlantic Marine Aquaculture Center at the University of New Hampshire, explained the current status of offshore fish farming and the obstacles and opportunities that may be encountered as this sector grows, in his lecture on June 9, 2008, at the University of Rhode Island's Graduate School of Oceanography. This was the first in a series of five public lectures presented by the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting.

Langan's experience with fisheries began in the 1980s when he was a commercial fisherman and realized that he was contributing to the depletion of fish in a non-sustainable way. As consumption of animal protein throughout the world has increased, especially in developing nations, Langan explained that there is an opportunity to turn to the ocean for food. As Jacques Cousteau famously said (and Langan argued), "we need to farm the sea as we farm the land."

Seventy percent of the planet is ocean, yet only 1.8 percent of our food comes from the sea. Seafood is more efficient than land animal protein - while it takes eight kilograms of cattle feed to produce one kilogram of beef, only 1.1 kilogram of feed is needed to produce 1 kilogram of farmed salmon. Langan stated that 77 percent of our seafood is currently imported, which can contribute to environmental degradation. One option is to create more aquaculture opportunities in this country, and in other countries with greater policy control.

Langan outlined three forms of aquaculture: land-based aquaculture, which requires enormous energy to operate; coastal aquaculture, which is farmed in protected areas or with long lines, and which often conflicts with recreational areas and can create pollution, and open-ocean aquaculture. Benefits of open-ocean aquaculture include ample space for expansion, a capacity for many different species, distance from pollution sources, and a physically and chemically more stable environment.

At the forefront of open-ocean aquaculture is the Atlantic Marine Aquaculture Center. The center operates a 30-acre field site six miles offshore in the Gulf of Maine. This offshore aquaculture site works with four fully submerged cages and remote observation and control, including a video feed of cod, the target species. By tagging individual fish and creating models of their movements, the center can now better understand fish behavior, including when and what to feed them and their swimming patterns, further enabling scientists to choose cages whose shape and size work best. At different times, flounder, halibut, haddock, cod, steelhead trout, mussels and sea scallops are raised at the site, with simultaneous production now reaching up to five species.

More commercial fishermen are turning to open-ocean farming, which seems to be profitable. Commercial fish farms are starting up around the world and the U.S., including areas off New Hampshire, California, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Can offshore aquaculture be environmentally sustainable? The press often reports the negative impacts of aquaculture, but, according to Langan, the environmental effects of land-based agriculture are often as detrimental, or more detrimental to the environment. Because open-ocean aquaculture is just beginning to develop, there are opportunities to develop best management practices which ensure that this seafood is produced in a sustainable way.

Management is the key to creating environmentally sustainable farming. Site selection, infrastructure and maintenance choices, husbandry practices, and strategies for corrective actions are all important in the creation of environmentally sustainable open-ocean aquaculture situation. In the future, Langan sees unmanned farms that are operated remotely from onshore as safe, economical, and environmentally sustainable. It is clear to him that investment in aquaculture is happening abroad, and it is his hope that there will be funding and popular support in this country in order for offshore aquaculture to move forward in a safe and sustainable way.


Richard Langan is the director of University of New Hampshire's Atlantic Marine Aquaculture Center and the Center's Open Ocean Aquaculture Project, which develops environmentally sound practices and advanced technology for raising native, coldwater finfish and shellfish in exposed oceanic environments. He is also Co-Director of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-UNH Cooperative Institute for Coastal and Estuarine Environmental Technology (CICEET), which develops tools and technologies for managing coastal environments. Dr. Langan is a member of the graduate faculty in the Department of Zoology and has previously held the positions of Director and rsearch scientist at UNH's Jackson Estuarine Laboratory. Alongside his administrative duties, he conducts research programs in molluscan shellfish aquaculture and restoration and in the development and assessment of marine water and habitat quality monitoring programs. Prior to his tenure at the university, he was a commercial fisherman and the owner and operator o seafood and shellfish aquaculture businesses. He received a Ph.D. at the University of New Hampshire.

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June 17, 2008