W1197: Advancing Aquatic Food Product Sustainability: Improving Quality, Utilization and Safety

(Multistate Research Project)

Status: Active

W1197: Advancing Aquatic Food Product Sustainability: Improving Quality, Utilization and Safety

Duration: 10/01/2023 to 09/30/2028

Administrative Advisor(s):

NIFA Reps:

Non-Technical Summary

Statement of Issues and Justification


The aquatic foods harvested and produced in the U.S. are sources of healthy, sustainable proteins, fats, and fibers (macroalgae).  Domestic harvest and production of aquatic food is a critically important component of America’s food supply chain, and efficient, sustainable aquatic food systems will be critical to the success of the U.S. in meeting the food, fiber, fuel, feed, and climate demands of the 21st Century. Much like specialty crops, the aquatic food system is highly diverse with both species and regionally driven barriers to:

  • Productivity

  • Food loss and waste

  • Water quality

The resilience of the U.S. aquatic food system and its subsequent productivity will be dependent on innovation and focused collaboration among aquatic food harvesters, producers, processors and scientist to develop solutions that allow the aquatic food industry to produce better, safer products and operate more efficiently.   The vision for this multistate project is to accelerate the flow of information and pace of innovation to address the science and engineering challenges that limit the competitiveness of the U.S. aquatic food industries.  This multistate project will produce the knowledge-based outcomes that will catalyze innovation and provide key stakeholders with the solutions needed to stay ahead of an ever changing, complex, and challenging global food environment.


In 2021, the National Marine Fisheries Service reported in their annual U.S. Commercial Fisheries and the Seafood Industry Report (National Marine Fisheries Service, 2021) that the United States landed approximately 8.6 billion pounds of fish and shellfish, valued at $6.5 billion at the point of sale (ex-vessel value). Additionally, US aquaculture producers harvested 658 million pounds of fish and shellfish worth $1.5 billion.  The domestic seafood industry processed a substantial 2.4 billion pounds of product, amounting to a value of $5.1 billion. Moreover, the U.S. successfully exported 2.5 billion pounds of aquatic food products, reaching a value of  $5.2 billion.  The total import value for aquatic food products in the U.S. amounted to $27.9 billion The US aquatic food product sector is relatively small compared to many agriculture, industrial, and service sectors. According to the USDA’s U.S. animal and animal product cash receipts (USDA 2021), the  2021 farm receipts for Cattle, Dairy, Hogs and Poultry and Egg reported were $72.9B, $41.8B, $28B, and $46.1B, respectively.  As a result, many aquatic derived food harvesters and processors are small to mid-sized when compared to their terrestrial counterparts.  Like other US food sectors, the aquatic derived food distribution channels are global and dominated larger companies that buy unprocessed product from large numbers of small to moderate scale fishers and aquaculturists. However, this sector is an important economic base for many rural coastal communities and is an important source of employment and earnings in many large coastal cities.

Parfitt et al, 2010 estimates that 10 to 40 percent of total global food product and as high as 50% is lost.  Overall food losses in the USA amount to $90-100 billion a year, of which $48.3 billion is thrown away directly by the consumer (Parfitt et al, 2010). When food production outpaces food consumption, it is easy to ignore the waste created by inefficiencies in harvest, processing and cold-chain systems. However, future projected limitations in food resources by 2050 demand these kind of attitudes change (de Almeida Oroski and da Silva, 2023). Our ability to sustainably use both terrestrial and aquatic foods will be crucial to meeting global population food needs. Many of the US terrestrial agriculture food systems have benefited from productive multistate partnerships in research and education focused on improving the productivity, efficiency, safety and sustainability of terrestrial food systems. The success of these partnerships is evidenced by the U.S.’s preeminence in growing and processing terrestrial food systems. Can we say the same for aquatic food systems? Unequivocally, the answer is no. We are already living with the consequences of this as the U.S. imports nearly 90% of its aquatic derived foods (GAO 2011). The U.S. government advises doubling seafood consumption for health reasons (2011 Federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans) and the updated 2020-2025 dietary guidelines list seafood as a nutrient dense food where 90% of the population is below recommended goals for consumption (8 oz/week). Meanwhile, USDA-ERS (2020) Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System estimates total loss for all levels for fresh and frozen seafood is 45.4% (including consumer cook loss and uneaten food).  As we try to change these statistics by enhancing the amount of aquatic foods we produce, we need to also focus on improving our stewardship of these resources in terms of their sustainable utilization.  The U.S. has directed significant resources in terms of re-building wild fish stocks through hatchery management systems, assessing wild populations to support fishery management decisions and developing and enhancing fish farming systems. It has also directed significant resources to understanding and protecting all of our aquatic ecosystems. It has not, however, directed resources at insuring that foods derived from these very same aquatic systems, are harvested, processed and distributed to maximize sustainability through optimized utilization.

Related, Current and Previous Work

This is the first attempt to develop a multistate coordinated effort for Advancing Aquatic Food Product Sustainability.  A review of NIMSS demonstrates there are no projects focused on innovation and sustainability for post-harvest aquatic derived foods systems.  A review of projects in CRIS finds many individual projects from both HATCH and Grants that encompass everything from aquaculture potential, economic and marketing feasibility evaluations, post-harvest sustainable utilization, innovation and food safety.  CRIS Hatch Projects related to this effort in particular include one from the University of Maine that is focused on Advancing Sustainable Seafood Technologies (ME021920).  This project is focused on trying develop systems for seaweeds, a new product in which production and processing systems in the U.S. are still in the developmental stage.  Evaluation of non-thermal processing for sous-vide products, and creating value from crustacean waste shell.  There is also a project focused on post-harvest technology of foods which includes aquatic foods from Mississippi State University (MIS-081710).  Washington State University (WNP00004) has a project focused on developing processing, safety, quality and supply solutions for production of high quality and safe foods.  Aquatic foods is also a component of this effort.  Louisiana State University has a project (LAB94368) Louisiana Seafood Industry, Co-Products Recovery, and Under Utilized Species Promotion.  AFRI grants related to this project include Value-added Utilization of Catfish By-Product (MIS-371860) from Mississippi State University; Optimizing Aquaponic Production using and Integrated Systems Approach (NH.W-2017-06754) from New Hampshire; Reducing resource use at the seafood-energy-water nexus: focus on efficient production and waste reduction (MD.W-2017-07653) from Johns Hopkins University; Machine Vision Robotic Systems for Automated Disassembling Crab Complex Compartments and Extracting Meats Extent Able to Large Scale Food and Post-Harvest Processing (MD-BIOE-08145) from University of Maryland.  In the realm of improving safety of aquatic derived products projects include Increasing Food Safety of Raw Oysters with a Simple and Rapid Post-Harvest Treatment Utilizing Probiotics (ORE00339) from Oregon State University and Development of Bio-Enabled Nano-Plasmonic Sensing Technology for Rapid Detection of Histamine and Aquaculture Drugs in Seafood (ORE00282) from Oregon State University.

The overall objective is application of science and technology to all aspects of research, innovation, production, and distribution of the food products originating from the marine and freshwater bodies of water.



  1. Build resilience in aquatic food systems through innovation and technological advances.
  2. Develop training and education programs that transfer knowledge and information to the aquatic food industry, K-12, higher Ed, consumers and other relevant end users.
  3. Engage with traditional/local (stakeholder) knowledge to insure research and programming efforts are informed, transferable and impactful.


The primary methods for the data collection for this project will be experimental and outreach work in the following main areas.

Objective 1. Build resilience in aquatic (marine or fresh) food systems through innovation or technology that advances food safety, nutrition, quality and utilization.

Advancing aquatic food system production, harvest (farmed or wild), processing and distribution

The proposed collaborative will work to develop research projects that focus on how aquatic food production and/or harvest practices are linked to product outcomes such as food safety, nutrition, quality and utilization.  The term “production” is meant to be inclusive of aquatic foods generated from aquaculture and aquaponic systems.  The term “harvest” is inclusive of aquaculture, aquaponics or wild harvest practices.  Critical knowledge gaps exist in our understanding of how current production and harvest practices impact the aquatic food system life cycle.  For example, for aquacultured or aquaponics products research is needed to understand how genetic and environmental conditions impact sources of pathogens, product quality, and minimize resource losses along the cold chain.  For the emerging macroalgae farming industry in the US, research is needed to develop best practices for processing and safety of shelf-stable, refrigerated and frozen products.  For wild harvested aquatic food products, where animal health is not easily determined at time of harvest, slaughter is dis-aggregated as opposed to centralized, and were slaughter and handling practices are not well documented, innovative, rapid, field based, cloud enabled technological solutions are needed for product quality determination and food safety assurance.  Finally, the high perishability of aquatic food species, coupled with unique challenges in food safety (histamine, C. botulinum type E), disparate valorization amongst similar species and one of the most intricate cold chain foods systems also makes aquatic food systems more susceptible to transparency issues (ie fraud).  Solutions for traceability are needed to enhance consumer confidence in aquatic food systems. 

Altering the processing paradigm

Most aquatic food processors are located in rural coastal locations with limited infrastructure and space due to being necessarily located adjacent to large bodies of water for product receiving purposes.  Aquatic food processors use significant amounts of water.  It is estimated a medium sized aquatic food processor discharges processing water at a rate that is equivalent to a town with a population of 10,000.  As a result, since coastal locations are often rural and local populations are much less than 10,000, the local infrastructure often cannot accept processing waters from aquatic food processors.  The result is many aquatic food processors receive permits from their respective states to discharge their processing waters directly into local waterways.  The proposed collaborative will work on technologies and practices that will help manufacturers of aquatic foods conserve water, minimize processing losses to waste water streams, create ecologically friendly practices for sanitation, and reduce carbon footprint.  Examples include developing advanced processing systems or innovating/altering the processing paradigm to improve overall efficiencies.

 Nutrition, health and metabolomic potential of aquatic foods

The proposed collaborative will conduct research to elucidate both nutritional and health benefits derived from aquatic food products, co-products or their naturally sourced biologics.  In 2018, US edible and nonedible exports were valued at $4.6B and $23B, respectively. We imported $22.4B and $17B, respectively.  A critical component of this project is to optimize utilization of the harvest resource.  To achieve this, research is needed to expand our understanding of both human and animal health benefits that can be derived from traditional edible and nonedible components of the resource.  Surprisingly, even the highest volume species only have basic nutritional information regarding their health value and information is not usually detailed to the species, just the genus.  Significant research efforts are still needed to expand our understanding of nutritional and health benefits obtained from aquatic food products.  Currently, the primary economic value from aquatic food products comes from consumption of edible portion of the animal (fish, crustacean, molluscs) or plant.  Discovery from research on the nutritive value of aquatic food products and their associated co-products/biologics is expected to expand consumer awareness of the health benefits (ex food as medicine) and lead to market expansion and higher levels of economic value.


Novel foods, ingredients, new species utilization

Basic research will be conducted to expand understanding of the physicochemical, microbiological, sensory and engineering properties of aquatic foods. Applied research will be conducted to support innovation in processing and formulation in order to enhance the availability, quality and safety of the aquatic food supply.  This effort will include developments in the nascent field of metabolomics to enhance product quality and safety and the development of novel foods and ingredient to expand economic value and marketability.  Research is also needed to enhance understanding of market potential of emerging production and harvest systems (ex macroalgae, invasive species such as green crab) and to meet consumer needs and expectations of the aquatic food system.

Objective 2. Develop training and education programs that transfer knowledge and information to the aquatic food industry, policy makers, primary, secondary, and postsecondary education, consumers and other relevant users.

Project participants will work on accelerating knowledge gained from research to stakeholders and policy makers through collaboration and exchange of information and ideas for educational efforts.  Examples include workforce training efforts by the University of Maine’s micro credentialing programs to expand safety and regulation information to stakeholders, Cornell’s efforts to develop consensus around food safety policy for macroalgae, Oregon State’s efforts to extend training on best practices for seafood processing (Better Seafood Processing School, Good Fishing Vessel Practices, and Surimi School).  University of Alaska’s Smoked Salmon Workshop and Alaska Seafood Processing Leadership Institute, and the many food safety, sanitation, best practices workforce training and development efforts supported by partners (AK, ME, OR, LA, WA, MD, FL, and VA).

Objective 3. Engaging traditional/local (stakeholder) knowledge to insure research and programming efforts are informed, transferable and impactful.

The focus of this project is to produce translational research that meets the needs of the community of stakeholders in aquatic food systems and advances scientific understanding.  Solutions driven research is critical to building resilience for industry.  A key element in the networking structure of this project is an annual meeting structure that encourages reciprocity amongst researchers and the community of stakeholders for aquatic food systems.

Measurement of Progress and Results


  • Collaborative research that will be published in peer-reviewed journals.
  • Increase stakeholder-driven research in aquatic food systems.

Outcomes or Projected Impacts

  • Stakeholders will benefit from increased efficiencies, increased markets and increased competitiveness from the knowledge developed and shared from this project.
  • Students will benefit from enhanced knowledge and understanding of aquatic food product systems learned through research and extension-based education.
  • Participants on the project from enhanced sharing of knowledge, issues and solutions for sustainable aquatic food product systems. This will help accelerate development in novel processes and products.


(2022):Organizational workshop was held in to organize and determine project objectives.

(2023):Project proposal developed and implemented.

(2024):Annual networking meeting will be held in Spring 2024

Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Outreach Plan

Propose and organize relevant symposia in national and international conferences such as IFT, IAFP, Aquaculture America, World Aquaculture, PFT (Pacific Fisheries Technologist, AGSTC (Atlantic and Gulf Seafood Technology Conference), and WEFTA (West European Fish Technologists Association).

Pilot-plant demonstrations will be developed with industry stakeholders and food manufacturers and regulators for training and transferring technology.

Programs will be developed to promote economic growth by training entrepreneurs in the aquatic food industry. Special efforts will be made to provide consultation to minority entrepreneurs.


The Chairman is elected at the annual meeting and serves the following year. This person serves as a liaison with the Administrative Advisor to see that all required annual reports are submitted to the office of the Executive Director, Western Association of Agricultural Experiment Station Directors. The Chairman directs the activities of the Committee and makes sure that the objectives of the committee are fulfilled. The following year’s meeting of the committee usually is at the home base of the Chairmen, who then also serves as local arrangements chair. Minutes of the meeting, state reports, and information about the activities are posted on the Committee’s website (http://seafood.oregonstate.edu). Meetings normally alternate among participant states, although alternate sites are sometimes selected to expand committee perspectives and impacts.

Literature Cited

de Almeida Oroski F, da Silva JM. Understanding food waste-reducing platforms: A mini-review. Waste Management & Research. 2023;41(4):816-827. doi:10.1177/0734242X221135248

GAO. 2011. Seafood Safety:FDA needs to improve oversight of imported seafood and better leverage limited resources. GAO-11-286. Published April 14, 2011.

National Marine Fisheries Service (2022). Fisheries of the United States, 2020. U.S. Department of Commerce, NOAA Current Fishery Statistics No. 2020. Available at: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/sustainable-fisheries/fisheries-united-states

Parfitt, Julian, Mark Barthel, and Sarah Macnaughton. "Food waste within food supply chains: quantification and potential for change to 2050." Philosophical transactions of the royal society B: biological sciences 365.1554 (2010): 3065-3081.

U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. 7th Edition, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, December 2010.

U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020. Available at DietaryGuidelines.gov

U.S. Department of Agriculture. Farm Income and Wealth Statistics. December 2021. https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/chart-gallery/gallery/chart-detail/?chartId=105663

U.S. Department of Agriculture. Economic Research Service: Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System – Fresh and Frozen fish: Per capita availability adjusted for loss1 excel file.  Last updated June 1, 2020. Available at:  https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-availability-per-capita-data-system/


Land Grant Participating States/Institutions


Non Land Grant Participating States/Institutions

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