The following interview originally appeared on Intrafish.

How did you enter the seafood industry and why? What drew you to it as a career?

I found my way into the aquaculture/seafood industry somewhat inadvertently. While studying biology at Shepherd College in West Virginia, I found out about an internship opportunity at The Conservation Fund’s Freshwater Institute (FI).

For nearly three decades, FI has been focused on the development of sustainable fish farming technologies that address growing consumer demand for seafood while minimizing environmental impact.

I was hired to evaluate a specialized solids removal technique for use in recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS). I enjoyed my experience so much that following graduation I inquired about job openings at FI.

They had recently expanded their aquaculture operation and I was fortunate to be hired as a Research Technician in 1998. The rest is history.

I advanced to the role of Senior Research Associate by 2009 and have been with the organization now for more than 17 years. 

What do you aim to achieve in the sector?

I’m focused on conducting research that answers practical questions for fish farmers, such as defining the nitrate tolerance threshold for rainbow trout and Atlantic salmon, evaluating the effect of ozone on water quality and fish performance in RAS, and studying the feasibility of feeding alternative-protein (fishmeal-free) diets to salmonids in RAS.

Through a partnership between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and FI, I’m able to openly share our research findings through peer-reviewed publications and presentations at industry conferences.

I hope that this research continues to benefit the aquaculture industry in the U.S. and abroad. Domestically, seeing our work contribute to an increase in local seafood availability and reduction in the national seafood deficit—currently more than 90 percent of our seafood is imported—would be gratifying.

In your view, what are the seafood industry's biggest future challenges?

One of the biggest challenges that the seafood/aquaculture industry faces is how to effectively expand production to meet increasing demand, while also minimizing adverse effects on our natural resources and the environment.

Through my experience at FI, I believe that the advantages provided by RAS technology—among them, the ability to provide a controlled culture environment, the flexibility to locate near high demand markets, enhanced biosecurity, and the ability to reuse water and effectively filter waste—will, in part, help to meet the growing demand for seafood in the future.

What kind of people does the industry need to face these challenges and take it forward?

The industry needs innovative minds that can continue to develop and improve aquaculture technologies at economies of scale that are environmentally sustainable, capital and energy efficient, and capable of reusing outputs such as dissolved nutrients for aquaponics or biosolids for fertilizer to maximize value.

Aquaculture industry expansion will also require investment; we need to attract venture capitalists that recognize the critical need for increased seafood production as a viable opportunity.

Lastly, influential people are needed who can inspire political decision-making to ensure that aquaculture research and development is consistently prioritized, which I believe will help to sustain the momentum of a rapidly growing industry.

What could current leadership in your sector learn to be better at?

Many people are not well-connected with their food in general, and most are not extremely knowledgeable about seafood—where it comes from, how it was raised, and how it made it to their plate.  

One area of leadership that the industry could possibly improve is marketing and public awareness. Seafood typically has a relatively complex story which results in a complicated decision-making process for the consumer: farm-raised versus wild caught; domestic (local) versus imported; sustainability rankings; certifications and seals of approval; and variations in farming techniques.

Improved marketing and education strategies that inform consumers about their seafood and its unique story, such as how it was raised or caught, how it is environmentally sustainable and the health benefits of different types of fish—salmon provides Omega-3 fatty acids, for example—would benefit the industry.

What is the perception of the seafood industry as a career choice amongst younger people?

I think a lot of young people, particularly undergraduate students with science and natural resource-based majors, perceive fish-related jobs as being pretty cool. For a person who loves the outdoors and loves to go fishing, working with fish in some capacity is something of a dream job. If there were more aquaculture jobs in the U.S., young people would be lining up.

What is the single best piece of career advice you have ever received?

The best piece of advice that I‘ve received is to step out of your box, challenge yourself, and attempt things that you may not have realized you could achieve. If I had not challenged myself in certain aspects of my career I would not be who I am today, personally or professionally.

What would you be doing professionally if you weren't in your current role?​​

Initially, I envisioned myself working in fish and wildlife or natural resource management. I have always enjoyed fishing, hunting, and just about anything outdoors, so this seemed like a logical career direction and a field that I would have pursued if I hadn’t found the Freshwater Institute.

I also come from a family of educators and I enjoy working with and mentoring young people, as well as being a dad. From that point of view, I don’t think I would be too far out of my element as a teacher or professor in a science-based field of study.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?

I’m very fortunate to work with some really smart people who are dedicated and passionate about the development of a sustainable aquaculture industry. Ten years from now I might still be here if they are willing to keep me. Our Director, Joe Hankins, jokingly refers to the Freshwater Institute as “The Hotel California,” maybe for good reason—because I, for one, might never leave.

The idea of working with a group that is pioneering new technologies and ideas that could make a difference for future generations peaked my interest from the start. Years later, seeing the technology that we’ve developed and the outcomes of our research being implemented in the aquaculture industry has been very rewarding.