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October 21, 2003
Aquaculture Project Aims to Alleviate Hunger, Promote Sustainability in Poverty-Striken Countries

Marine Biological Laboratory Expertise and Technology Key to an Innovative Solution

WOODS HOLE, MA—Fish food being developed by scientists at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) may ultimately help to alleviate hunger in tropical third world countries.  The MBL researchers, who are part of the Laboratory’s Program in Scientific Aquaculture, are working with missionaries in Haiti to address the critical need for a nutritious, plant-based diet for aquacultured fish being raised in the poverty-striken country.  If successful, their results could be applicable to other tropical countries where malnutrition is an issue.

Nearly 80% of Haiti’s 6.5 million people live in poverty, and obtaining food is a daily problem.  For more than ten years, Rodney and Sharyn Babe, missionaries with the Comprehensive Development Project (CODEP), have been running a successful tilapia fish hatchery in the L’Acul area of Haiti.  They currently have 50 ponds in operation.  Tilapia are a fast-growing, robust fish, efficient at converting plant protein into high quality flesh. Although each of the Haitian ponds is capable of producing 500-600 pounds of healthy fish a month, current production is only a fraction of this amount because the commercial fish food needed to sustain the tilapia is expensive, spoils rapidly, and is difficult to transport in Haiti’s rural mountain areas.

Armed with expertise in aquaculture engineering, fish husbandry, fish physiology, and employing the advanced water filtration systems of the 32,000 square foot Marine Resources Center (MRC) research facility, MBL scientists led by Dr. Rick Goetz and Scott Lindell are working to develop a pellet fish feed that Haitian villagers can produce themselves using indigenous non-endangered or threatened Haitian plants as the necessary protein base.    "Given the talent and skills of the researchers and staff of the MRC, and the capabilities of the MRC life support systems, we have a unique opportunity to make a substantial contribution toward alleviating a serious global issue," said Bill Mebane, a member of the research team.

Mebane and his colleagues have received plant material from Haiti and are currently working with consultants in the fish feed industry to determine what kind of "binder" will need to be added to the plant leaves to produce the best pellets. Pending additional funding, the scientists plan to determine manufacturing techniques for the pellets and test their feed on tilapia in the MRC tanks.

"The subsistence peasant farmers in Haiti have insufficient resources to feed their children," said Rodney Babe. "Dramatic increases in fish production could occur with a source of local feed and this same scenario could be replicated throughout the tropics where so much malnutrition occurs."

The Marine Biological Laboratory is an independent scientific institution, founded in 1888, that undertakes the highest level of creative research and education in biology, including the biomedical and environmental sciences. The Marine Resources Center is a highly advanced facility for maintaining, culturing, and providing aquatic organisms essential to advanced biological, biomedical, and ecological research.