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Tank Farmed Marine Species Win Fans

US - As populations of wild fish dwindle, researchers at University of North Carolina, Wilmington, are finding ways to farm marine species in tanks.

But it's no mean feat as salt water - or marine aquaculture - is more difficult than freshwater production where the fish are being raised in land-based pools or tanks.

UNCW's Aquaculture Development Facility at Wrightsville Beach where tank production of marine fish is proving successful.

Ocean-fish eggs are smaller and more fragile than those from freshwater species, and they are difficult to cultivate. Also, maintaining water quality is complex - researchers equate it to the challenges of running a marine aquarium, but on a much grander scale.

At UNCW's aquaculture facility at Wrightsville Beach, scientists have converted a former water desalinisation plant into a laboratory where southern flounder and black sea bass swim in heated and cooled tanks of sea water. They are fed a diet that includes plankton, soya meal or other alternative protein sources and the system is proving successful.

Huge opportunities

Graded up to large scale production, then farms rearing marine species could open up greater opportunities for agriculture on the North Carolina coast and meet the rapidly increasing demand for fish from the state's health-conscious consumers.

The bass and flounder appear to be the most commercially promising species. Black sea bass in particular are high demand, but low in supply so there is good market potential.

Local chefs are already impressed with UNCW's farmed product. The Bridge Tender restaurant, has featured its black bass on the menu.

"We haven't discovered a lot of difference. I think the fact that it's so fresh that makes up for anything that might be lost in terms of flavour," said chef John Howell.

The fish are pulled straight from the pen and are in the kitchen within ten minutes - they are fresher than if they had been caught and the system is more sustainable.