AUBURN, Ala.—A new research and outreach institute focused on stimulating economic growth in Alabama and the Southeast by strengthening and expanding the region’s domestic aquatic and fisheries industries has been established within the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station under the leadership of Auburn University’s world-class Department of Fisheries and Allied Aquacultures.
As approved by the university’s Board of Trustees at its Feb. 3 meeting, the interdisciplinary Aquaculture and Fisheries Business Institute is charged with finding efficient solutions to the production, economic, quality, logistical and marketing problems standing between the region’s aquatic enterprises—including freshwater, saltwater and recreational fisheries—and growth.
The ultimate goal: to encourage business development and create jobs in an industry currently battling a flood of foreign imports and soaring input and fuel costs.
Building on Auburn’s unparalleled expertise in fisheries and the Southeast’s existing aquaculture industry and abundant water resources, the institute will bring together experts in multiple disciplines from within the College of Agriculture and from five other colleges and schools on campus as well as from other universities and the private sector to tackle the needs and explore the opportunities that exist for aquaculture and fisheries businesses statewide and regionally.
The institute initially will be led by three fisheries and allied aquacultures faculty members at Auburn—professor emeritus John Jensen and associate professors and Extension specialists Jesse Chappell and Terry Hanson. They will serve as part-time co-directors until a permanent part-time director is found.
In essence, the new entity is an expansion of “Pond to Plate,” a project the College of Agriculture’s fisheries and allied aquacultures department, working with the Auburn Technical Assistance Center in the College of Business, initiated in 2009 to improve the efficiency and profitability of Alabama’s catfish industry by reducing waste at every level of the value stream. The project has hinged on the application of “lean manufacturing” strategies to the entire catfish industry. Lean manufacturing, a management philosophy developed by Japan’s automotive industry, takes a big-picture view of the entire process of moving a product from the producer to the customer and cuts any steps and activities that are unnecessary to the process.
“Lean manufacturing is about eliminating waste to reduce costs, improve quality and deliver to consumers the products they want at competitive prices, all with minimal environmental impact,” Jensen said. “It’s the pursuit of perfection.”
That Pond to Plate is making a difference can be found in the growing number of producers who are adopting in-pond raceway production systems, which offer such advantages as higher stocking densities and better inventory control, and who are transitioning from channel catfish to AU Hybrid, a fast-growing, feed-efficient and disease-resistant catfish Auburn researchers released in 2005.
Pond to Plate also has led to significant grant and contract awards since its inception, and David Rouse, Department of Fisheries and Allied Aquacultures head, expects that to continue through the institute.
“Our department has always worked with the state’s aquaculture and seafood industries, but traditionally, we focused on specific problems,” he said. “In recent years, we came to realize that the issues were complex and that we needed to take a much broader view and build teams of individuals with diverse backgrounds to address those issues.
“The result was Pond to Plate, which is having such positive impacts on our catfish industry that we’re ready to apply the same principles to related industries in our state and region,” Rouse said. “Auburn’s Aquaculture and Fisheries Business Institute will give us this opportunity.”
The Alabama Ag Experiment Station is funding the institute for its first three years, during which the three co-directors will focus on securing backing from private clients, commodity groups, stakeholders and state and federal research and education programs so the institute ultimately will be supported 100 percent by extramural dollars.
Bill Batchelor, AAES director and dean of the College of Agriculture, said the institute falls in line with the experiment station’s research mission and Auburn’s land-grant charge of providing research, education and outreach.
The Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station, established in 1883 and headquartered at Auburn University, fosters and conducts basic and applied scientific research in the agricultural, biological, environmental, food and human sciences and provides scientifically sound information to support the state’s ag industries and businesses and to improve the quality of life for all Alabamians.