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April 01, 2012   Email to Friend 

Auburn’s New Aquaculture, Fisheries Institute Aims For Job Creation
Jamie Creamer

Alabama catfish farmers have been battling a flood of foreign imports and soaring input costs, but a new research and outreach institute within the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station may help them rise above those obstacles.

Focused on stimulating economic growth in the Southeast by expanding the region’s domestic aquatic and fisheries industries, the Aquaculture and Fisheries Business Institute is under the leadership of Auburn University’s Department of Fisheries and Allied Aquacultures. The center’s mission is to find 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. Alabama Farmers Federation Catfish Division Director Rick Oates said it’s important to look at any way farmers can improve efficiency and reduce costs.

“Alabama ranks second in the nation in terms of catfish sales and has an economic impact of $223 million to our state each year,” Oates said. “However, increased imports and the high cost of feed and fuel are making it increasingly difficult for our farmers to remain profitable.

The institute will bring together experts from within the College of Agriculture and 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 using a management approach that has been labeled “lean manufacturing.”

“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.

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. The institute ultimately will be supported 100 percent by extramural dollars.

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