Senior Research Associate, Animal Science
Academic Coordinator, Shoals Marine Laboratory
Faculty Fellow, Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future,
My doctoral research examined the endocrine regulation of appetite and growth in fish, with applied work on developing aquaculture feeding protocols and testing sustainable sources of protein for fish feeds. Before joining Cornell, I worked in the aquaculture industry for a number of years on sturgeon and striped bass production, as well as on seafood industry sustainability certification and traceability. The goal of my work at Cornell is promoting resourceful methods to help grow a much-needed U.S. aquaculture industry, which will ease pressure on wild fish stocks while improving our nation’s food security (we import 90% of our seafood!).
My research mainly focuses on developing sustainable aquaculture feeds. Humans essentially maxed out marine wild fisheries three decades ago, and so aquaculture now produces over half of the world’s seafood, and will supply all future increases as our population grows. Even though fish are exceptionally efficient growers, this requires a lot of feed globally. Sourcing dietary protein is arguably the biggest challenge to the industry, and protein commodities like fishmeal have grown prohibitively expensive and are highly controversial for their negative impact on the ocean – after all, we don’t want to destroy the marine ecosystem as we transition to farming in it.
Our lab’s mission is therefore to identify and test sustainable protein sources as potential aquafeed ingredients. With the philosophy that “there’s no such thing as waste if you use it; it becomes a resource,” we look for protein-rich animal processing byproducts and industry side streams – which often are burdensome to dispose of – and repurpose them as fish feed. In doing so, we can gain inexpensive, sustainable protein sources to support fish farming, reduce the environmental impact of using wild fish as feed, and add value to other industry outputs. We also use our wastewater to fertilize plants, simultaneously growing vegetable cash crops while cleaning fish wastewater. Taken together, we hope to demonstrate the potential of efficient circular (or really networked) economies; clean inputs, clean outputs...
To tackle these objectives, I run 1) a feed development lab (the “kitchen,” F. Morrison Hall) used for formulation and testing physical properties, and 2) a growth performance lab with two recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS, K. Post Labs) for assessing the feeds on fish growth and health. I also work with Drs. Neil Mattson (Plant Science) and Michael Timmons (Bio & Env. Eng.) on research to use wastewater as plant fertilizer in aquaponics (Northern Regional Aquaculture Center). Some of the experimental feedstuffs under investigation include:
Seafood processing carcasses and trimmings (Atkinson Center, USDA) – We have developed a novel chemical process for solidifying liquefied fish hydrolysate (aka silage, made from fish carcasses) into pellets. This process does not require special equipment or refrigeration. We aim for fisheries byproducts from processing facilities (point A) to be directly converted into feed for use at farms (point B), reducing the carbon footprint of manufacturing and transportation to mills, and potentially salvaging millions of tons of otherwise wasted fish protein for use in aquafeeds in place of fishmeal.
Invasive carp (E&E Marketing and Management, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) – The lucrative NE lobster fishery has enormous demand for bait (e.g. herring), such that local wild baitfish fisheries are overtaxed and bait is now being imported at great expense from overseas. Meanwhile, invasive carp are wreaking havoc on interior watersheds. Our industry and research team is looking into the feasibility of a commercial carp fishery to simultaneously curb the carp invasion while reducing pressure on wild baitfish for lobster traps. Carp meal will also be incorporated into aquafeeds.
Insect meal – Insect larvae have high potential as a sustainable feed ingredient. They can convert almost any perishable organic material (e.g. human food waste, industrial side streams from food/beverage production) into neat packages of protein and lipids. In collaboration with River Road Research, a black soldier fly producer in Buffalo, NY, and Hudson Valley Fisheries, NY’s largest fish farm, we are looking into ways to optimize larvae meal quality through modified harvesting and processing methods.
Other research areas
Offshore aquaculture and energy (National Sea Grant, Dr. Maha Haji) – Wind farms are coming to the waters off New England, and domestic aquaculture is needed to help the U.S. reduce its reliance on imported seafood. I am assisting Dr. Haji (Engineering) to assess the potential co-location of offshore aquaculture and renewable energy.
Automated “smart feeder” for aquaculture systems – (NH Sea Grant, Cornell U. Sustainable Design) Feed is 60% of aquaculture production costs. Uneaten feed is therefore expensive, and can also degrade water quality. Working with a multidisciplinary student group (CUSD), we are training a machine learning algorithm to interpret fish feeding behavior using computer vision and water sensors, and to control an automated feeder that will provide food when fish are hungry, and predict satiation before feed is wasted. The system will eventually be integrated into our RAS and the NHSG Aquafort, a nearshore multitrophic aquaculture system near Shoals Marine Lab.
Virtual aquaculture system (Virtual Embodiment Lab, Dr. Andrea Won) – Along with the other Dr. Won in the Communications Dept., we are developing a virtual RAS simulator for industry training, and for research on interactive team problem solving in complex work environments.
Extension and industry relations:
I work closely with NY Sea Grant and the private sector to promote growth of the aquaculture industry in the state and regionally.
- Along with Cornell Cooperative Extension and the NYSG Aquaculture Specialist, Emma Forbes, I co-chair the Aquaculture Program Work Team to help aquaculture stakeholders connect to one another, and to researchers and government agencies, to identify industry challenges and seek courses of action.
- NY board member of the Great Lakes Aquaculture Collaborative, playing an advisory role in a multi-state consortium of industry and academic experts to develop aquaculture the Great Lakes region.
- I provide research updates at the annual NY Seafood Summit to farmers, fishers, retailers and restauranteurs.
- I served on the NY Sea Grant National Site Review panel, providing testimony to the review board (NOAA, Cornell, NY Board of Governors) on NYSG stakeholder engagement, partnerships, and collaborations.
- I collaborate with industry partners (mentioned above) on applied aquaculture research.
- In fall 2021, I served as an academic advisor in the Yield Lab’s international Global Aquaculture Challenge, a $1.6M competition for advancing aquaculture technologies.
- Presented research and led discussion panel on sustainable aquaculture feeds in the 2nd Annual Aquatic Life Conference
- Striper Hub (NC Sea Grant, NCSU) member. Research and industry consortium to promote striped bass as a target species for domestic aquaculture production.
I teach Fish Physiology (ANSC/BIOAP 3300/5300, spring) and an aquaculture section in a new class, Sustainable Food & Companion Animal Systems and Perspectives (ANSC 2000/5000, spring). I also guest lecture in Meat (ANSC 3500), Fish Health Management (VTMED 6432) and other classes on fish and aquaculture topics.
I serve as Cornell’s Academic Coordinator for Shoals Marine Lab, our teaching and research outpost on Appledore Island, which is part of the Isles of Shoals archipelago off of the NH/ME coast (Gulf of Maine). The lab hosts research and summer field classes to students in any major. See me if interested.
I am an undergraduate advisor for the Animal Science, Biology and Environment & Sustainability majors. I usually have 5-10 undergrad RAs in the lab, and I mentor students in marine sciences, advise in undergraduate honors theses and graduate research, oversee internships, participate in the annual CIDA Hackathon, and advise the American Fisheries Society student subunit and Angling Club, among other things. My door is open to anyone interested in talking about fish biology, fishing or aquaculture!
202 Morrison Hall
507 Tower Road
Ithaca, NY 14853
etw36 [at] cornell.edu
Eugene in the news
- Shoals Marine Laboratory
- Animal Science
- Shoals Marine Laboratory
- Office of Undergraduate Biology