Student Intern at Hagerman Station Dives into Aquaculture
Research project examines alternative to animal-based fishmeal
Jose Ortiz thinks a lot about what fish eat.
Ortiz, a junior fishery resources major at the University of Idaho, recently completed the first College of Natural Resources internship at the Hagerman Fish Culture Experiment Station under a program introduced by station Director Brian Small with the support of Fish and Wildlife Department Head Lisette Waits.
“We have great research facilities on the fish side, but the lab here is state of the art. There is no other facility like this in the country.” Brian Small, Director, Hagerman Fish Culture Experiment Station
Hagerman is the epicenter of the U.S. trout industry: 75 percent of trout produced for U.S. consumption comes from the Hagerman Valley in southern Idaho. The Hagerman Fish Culture Experiment Station – an arm of U of I’s Aquaculture Research Institute – is located precisely where spring water from the Snake River aquifer percolates into the Snake River. As a result, the facility does not have to pump, oxygenate, or cool freshwater for fish species’ requirements. The station, established in 1987, is well-known for its cool and cold aquaculture research and attracts researchers from across the globe. “We have great research facilities on the fish side, but the lab here is state of the art,” said Small, a professor in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Sciences. “We do all of our own analyses here: everything from diet and tissue analysis to next-generation sequencing. There is no other facility like this in the country.”
Over the course of his three-month internship during the summer of 2018, Ortiz, who grew up in Mountain Home, attended his first professional conference, helped spawn fish and assisted Vikas Kumar, assistant research professor in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, with a project that aims to reduce the cost for fishmeal by substituting animal protein with plant protein. The United Nations and the Food and Agriculture Organization both predict soaring demand for fish as global populations continue to grow. Fish provide a good source of nutrition, and aquaculture fills the gap between finite resources in nature and the world population’s growing demand for this food source. However, aquaculture relies on fishmeal, which is largely composed of wild fish protein. The high demand for fishmeal – made from a limited resource – drives up costs and has caused producers to go bankrupt.
“To help produce a sustainable food source for people all over the world would be really meaningful” Jose Ortiz, Junior, Fishery Resources
Kumar is exploring the possibility of producing nutritious fishmeal sourced from plant protein. If he succeeds, this solution would not only offer a better price point, but would also reduce the amount of wild fish harvested for use in fishmeal.
Partnering with Kumar on this project, Ortiz began to see the potential impact his career choice could have on global populations.
“There is an increased demand globally for food due to population growth — to help produce a sustainable food source for people all over the world would be really meaningful,” he said.
Kumar enjoys overseeing internships like the one with Ortiz. He also made sure to give Ortiz enough space to experience the job for himself.
“Just because I am a teacher doesn’t mean I am the smartest person on the planet. My student might be smarter than me,” he said. “It’s important to meet and discuss the project routinely, but it’s also important to hear the students’ ideas.”
“Learning as much as I have, this summer is probably one of the best summers of my life.” Jose Ortiz, Junior, Fishery Resources
Kumar and Ortiz will continue to work and learn together into 2019. Ortiz is hoping to travel to New Orleans, Louisiana with Kumar to attend Aquaculture 2019 to present their results from the plant-based protein project. Ortiz plans to return to the Hagerman Fish Culture Experiment Station next summer for more fish spawning, more research and additional opportunities to participate in progressive aquaculture practices.
“I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity,” Ortiz said. “Honestly, learning as much as I have, this summer is probably one of the best summers of my life.”
Article by Lindsay Lodis, College of Natural Resources
Published September 2018