UH Hilo part of $1 million federal grant to tackle economic and marketing gaps in U.S. aquaculture industry

UH Hilo’s Pacific Aquaculture and Coastal Resource Center is leading the Hawaiʻi component of the project to develop educational materials, online tools for industry, and assist with economic studies.

Aerial view of the aquaculture center with buildings, ponds, lawn expanse and Hilo Bay coastline.
Aerial view of UH Hiloʻs Pacific Aquaculture and Coastal Resource Center located in Keaukaha, Hilo Bay. (Photo: PACRC/UH Hilo)

By Susan Enright.

The University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo’s aquaculture center is part of a new consortium funded by a federal grant of nearly $1 million to address critical economic and marketing gaps. The multi-state and island group is led by Virginia Tech, a public land-grant research university with its main campus in Blacksburg, Virginia.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) U.S. Department of Commerce logo, two tones of blue with a flying sea bird.Awarded through competitive funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Sea Grant, the grant will support the establishment of the Aquaculture Economics and Markets Collaborative over the next two years.

The group draws expertise from institutions across the nation, including Virginia Tech, Mississippi State University, Texas A&M University, UH Hilo, University of Maryland, University of Alaska, Morgan State University, Maine Aquaculture Association, University of Guam, and University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, to address challenges facing the domestic aquaculture industry.

With a mission to fill research gaps in economics and marketing, the project will emphasize building bridges across a range of geographic regions between researchers, industry leaders, and state extension services. Project collaborators are a geographically diverse group of economists and extension specialists with backgrounds in freshwater, coastal, marine, and recirculating aquaculture systems.

Maria Haws in head lei pictured.
Maria Haws

“With record production of $90 million in 2023, aquaculture is now one of the largest contributors in agricultural production in Hawaiʻi, yet key information for planning and decision-making is lacking,” says Maria Haws, UH Hilo professor of aquaculture based at the university’s Pacific Aquaculture and Coastal Resource Center located in Keaukaha, Hilo Bay.

Haws says the gap in key information is due to the highly diverse nature of production methods, systems, and species that are cultured in Hawaiʻi. With aquaculture ranging from production of broodstock shrimp produced in land-based systems to open-ocean cages producing hamachi (kahala), existing studies don’t reflect the economic realities of those regions.

“Hawaiʻi and the U.S.-affiliated Pacific Islands have relatively weak capacity for aquaculture economics since there are no dedicated aquaculture economists, although some economic specialists contribute to research in this area,” Haws says. “Results from this work, as well as the relationships developed through the consortium, will help compensate for this.”

The collaborative project will deliver training through workshops aimed primarily at producers that will be implemented in locations across the United States, including Hawaiʻi and Puerto Rico.

UH Hilo’s Pacific Aquaculture and Coastal Resource Center is leading the Hawaiʻi component of the project including developing educational materials, online tools for industry and other users, and assisting with farm economic studies. The center also will be assisting with the U.S.-affiliated Pacific Islands component along with the University of Guam Sea Grant program.

The collaborative project will address accessibility by producing videos and training materials that will be made publicly available in English and Spanish. These resources will be accessible through an “Economics and Marketing Portal” on the Sea Grant Aquaculture Information Exchange managed by Virginia Sea Grant.

The project also emphasizes student involvement, providing opportunities for junior faculty and graduate students to participate in multifaceted research and state extension projects related to aquaculture economics and marketing.

Story by Susan Enright, a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.

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