Eugene Won is a senior research associate in the Department of Animal Science who studies fish physiology and develops sustainable aquaculture feeds. Previously, he worked in the aquaculture and seafood industries, focusing on production, research and development, and traceability issues. Won runs an aquaculture lab on campus and works with students to test alternative fish feed components to help make the aquaculture industry more environmentally and economically viable.
We recently asked him to explain the work his lab does and why the Cornell community and general public should be excited about it.
Aquaculture, also known as fish farming, involves both marine and freshwater species that are bred and harvested for human consumption.
What is the focus of your lab?
My lab is looking for sustainable protein sources to use in fish feed, thereby replacing a controversial commodity called fish meal. This research began in 2017, with pilot funding from the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability to develop a method to convert fishery byproducts into pelletized fish feed. Now, with grants from the USDA’s Hatch Multistate Research Fund and the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station, we will be testing the feed in our new aquaculture lab.
The philosophy behind the lab is to look for usable waste streams that could serve as a source of protein in fish diets. This includes protein-rich organic materials like seafood/animal processing byproducts, invasive carp, insects (that can process organic waste streams), and other types of industrial byproducts.
We are interested in circular economies: It’s not waste if you use it; it becomes a resource.
Why does your lab focus on fish feed?
Around 5% to 20% of fish feed is a commodity called fish meal, which is made from wild fish that are caught to feed farmed fish and other livestock. Fish meal is the most controversial and expensive part of the industry, making up at least half of the production costs. While the percentage of fish meal might seem low, the aquaculture industry is immense and growing. Globally, aquaculture is larger than the beef industry and requires an immense amount of feed. My mission is to replace fish meal with alternative, more sustainable protein sources.
Why is fish protein used to feed fish?
Fish require high protein diets and are highly efficient when converting feed to body mass. Many fish, including species we often eat like salmon and striped bass, naturally eat other fish. In turn, fish are a healthy choice for human consumers because of the high-quality protein and lipid profile (omega-3-fatty acids) in their meat.
Why should the public be excited about your research?
I want the aquaculture industry to grow – but to do so responsibly. Demand for seafood is increasing, but around 90% of all wild fish stocks are either overfished or fished to maximum capacity. Today, over half our seafood comes from farms, and by 2030 60% will be farmed, an increase of 40 million metric tons, which will all come from aquaculture!
Expanding aquaculture in the United States will have environmental and economic benefits. We currently import about 80%-90% of our farmed fish. We often don’t know where it is grown or caught, or under what conditions. We also have no say in labor or environmental laws overseas. Buying fish from U.S.-based farms promotes sustainable farming practices and is better for the future of the environment and our economy.
In addition, as the U.S. aquaculture industry expands, more jobs will be created and seafood imports will be offset with fresh, local seafood. Indoor recirculating aquaculture farms can operate hundreds of miles from the ocean, bringing employment opportunities to regions across the country.
Did you know...
90% of all wild fish stocks...
Over 50% of our seafood...
80-90% of farmed fish in the US...
How can the Cornell community get involved?
Students can get involved in the aquaculture lab by first taking my class ANSC 3300: Fish Physiology. The lab’s recirculating aquaculture system is essentially life support for our fish, so student research assistants need to know fish biology and learn how to quickly triage problems that might arise. Additionally, this spring I will be teaching an aquaculture section in a new class, ANSC 2000: Sustainable Food and Companion Animal Systems and Perspectives. Students will get a first glance at the work happening in our lab.
For the broader Cornell community, I would like this lab to serve as a conduit for testing the protein-rich plant and animal products and byproducts produced around campus – after all, we are an ag school. Also, various organizations on campus produce organic waste that we can convert to pelletized fish feed. My hope is to build bridges across the university by using byproducts and waste streams in my lab to feed farmed fish.
Daniella Garcia Almeida ’25 is a physics freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences and a student writer for Cornell CALS Department of Animal Science.
We openly share valuable knowledge. Often through email.
Sign up for more insights, discoveries and solutions.