The AquaFish Innovation Lab partners with institutions worldwide to develop and transfer innovative technologies and management practices in aquaculture and fisheries. The AquaFish Innovation Lab accomplishes this by leading and supporting research projects in developing countries that: 

  • Address human health and nutrition needs especially of women and children.
  • Consider natural resource management, climate change, and biodiversity issues with targeted programs that protect native fisheries and the integrity of local and regional water systems.
  • Advance market development by linking small producers to markets and training rural stakeholders in food safety and food quality standards.

AquaFish Innovation Lab Around the World

Research Projects

The AquaFish Innovation Lab has five currently funded projects in Africa and Asia. AquaFish Innovation Lab funds researchers at US universities, who in turn partner with Host Country researchers, to lead research projects.  The five currently funded projects include:  

Previous work under the current award included two Latin American & Caribbean Projects in Guyana & Mexico (led by University of Arizona) and in Mexico & Nicaragua (led by University of Hawaii).  Both lead institutions continue to collaborate on current projects.  The AquaFish Innovation Lab leads Associate Award projects in addition to core research conducted under the lead award from USAID. 

Program Countries

Current AquaFish Innovation Lab projects operate in eight countries in Africa and Asia:

  • Bangladesh
  • Burma
  • Cambodia
  • Ghana
  • Kenya
  • Nepal
  • Tanzania
  • Uganda
  • Vietnam

Global Themes

The AquaFish Innovation Lab funded projects carry out research related to one of four global themes related to social, environmental, and economic dynamics of aquaculture production. The themes provide the organizing framework for taking a systems approach to responsible advancement of aquaculture.

  1. Improved Human Health and Nutrition, Food Quality, and Food Safety
  2. Income Generation for Small-Scale Fish Farmers and Fishers
  3. Environmental Management for Sustainable Aquatic Resources Use
  4. Enhanced Trade Opportunities for Global Fishery Markets 

Topic Areas

AquaFish Innovation Lab core projects carry out the objectives of a global theme through 6-8 “investigations” designed around a topic area. Topic areas characterize research and are coordinated to address cross cutting issues.  The ten AquaFish Innovation Lab Topic Areas cover a broad range of interrelated issues and encourage an integrated project design.

    • Aquaculture is an agricultural activity with specific input demands. Systems need to be designed to improve efficiency and/or integrate aquaculture inputs and outputs with other agricultural and non- agricultural production systems. AquaFish Innovation Lab research must benefit smallholder or low- to semi-intensive producers, and should focus on low-trophic species for aquaculture development. Design systems to limit negative environmental impacts, to improve overall fish health, and optimize carrying capacity. Interventions for disease and predation prevention must adopt an integrated pest management (IPM) approach and be careful to consider consumer acceptance and environmental risk of selected treatments. Innovative research is encouraged on: recirculating and aquaponics systems for supplying aquatic products to denser marketplaces in urban and peri-urban areas; integrated systems using shellfish, seaweeds, or other plants and animals; and new solutions for aeration, cold storage, and pond operations involving solar or other novel energy sources.
    • Methods of increasing the range of available ingredients and improving the technology available to manufacture and deliver feeds are a critical research theme. Better information about fish nutrition can lead to the development of less expensive and more efficient feeds. Investigations on successful adoption, extension, and best practices for efficient feed strategies that reduce the “ecological footprint” of a species under cultivation are encouraged. Research on soil-water dynamics and natural productivity to lessen feed needs were fundamental to the PD/A and ACRSPs; critical new areas of research may be continued, along with outreach to poor farmers using low-cost, no/low-feed technologies. Feed research that lessens reliance on fishmeal/proteins/oils and lowers feed conversion ratios is desired, as is research on feeds (ingredients, sources, regimes, formulations) that result in high quality and safe aquaculture products with healthy nutrition profiles. Complex pond dynamics technologies need to be simplified for use by new farmers; improved applications of pond dynamics technologies for driving non-fed plankton-driven systems is applicable where access to feeds is expensive or unreliable.
    • Aquaculture, like agriculture and other human activities, will feel the effects of long-term climate change. Among the myriad challenges, ocean acidification and sea level rise will affect the world’s coastal aquaculture operations, much of which occurs in poorer countries. Temperature changes will test the resiliency of domesticated varietals. Research challenges involve understanding the adaptive range of these species, and developing cultivation techniques for new species, such as air-breathing fishes. The shifting distribution of global freshwater supplies will pose challenges for the aquaculture industry, small farmers, and the marketplace. Genomics tools may be used to characterize candidate air-breathing species already being evaluated through previous CRSP research. Domestication of indigenous species may contribute positively to the development of local communities as well as protect ecosystems. At the same time, the development of new native species for aquaculture must be approached in a responsible manner that diminishes the chance for negative environmental, economic, and social impacts. Research that investigates relevant policies and practices is encouraged while exotic species development and transfer of non-native fishes are not encouraged. A focus on biodiversity conservation and biodiversity hotspots, as related to the development of native species for aquaculture, is of great interest. Aquaculture, done sensitively, can be a means to enhance and restock small-scale capture and wild fisheries resources.
    • Procuring reliable supplies of high quality seed for stocking local and remote sites is critical to continued development of the industry, and especially of smallholder private farms. A better understanding of the factors that contribute to stable seedstock quality, availability, and quantity for aquaculture enterprises is essential. Genetic improvement (e.g., selective breeding) that does not involve genetically modified organisms (GMOs) may be needed for certain species that are internationally traded. All genetic improvement strategies need to be cognizant of marketplace pressures and trends, including consumer acceptance and environmental impacts. Augmentation of bait fisheries through aquaculture to support capture fisheries is an area of interest, provided there are no net negative environmental effects.
    • Aquaculture can be a crucial source of protein and micronutrients for improved human health, growth, and development. Research on the intrinsic food quality of various farmed fish for human consumption is needed—this might include science-based studies of positive and negative effects of consuming certain farmed fishes. Patterns of fish consumption are not well understood for many subpopulations. Human health can be negatively impacted by aquaculture if it serves as a direct or indirect vector for human diseases. There is interest in better understanding the interconnectedness of aquaculture production and water/vector- borne illnesses such as malaria, schistosomiasis, and Buruli ulcer and human health crises such as HIV/AIDS and avian flu. Focus on vulnerable populations, women and children, and underserved populations, and assess how any given technology will affect or improve the welfare of these groups. Research or field-testing with schools and nutrition centers is encouraged.
    • Ensuring high quality, safe, and nutritious fish products for local consumers and the competitive international marketplace is a primary research goal. Efforts that focus on reducing microbial contamination, HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) controls and hazards associated with seafood processing, value-added processing, post-processing, and by-product/waste development are of interest. Consumers and producers alike will benefit from research that contributes to the development of standards and practices that protect fish products from spoilage, adulteration, mishandling, and off- flavors. Processing waste can claim up to 70% by weight of finfish depending on the species and manner processed, and post harvest losses can claim around 30%. Partnering with other groups and co-developing outreach techniques to reduce post harvest losses can significantly contribute to the amount of fish available for consumption; thus, contributing to the nutrition goals of USAID’s Feed the Future Initiative. Certification, traceability, product integrity, and other efforts to improve fish products for consumer acceptance and international markets are desired. Gender integration is important to consider as women are strongly represented in the processing and marketing sectors, and throughout much of the value chains.
    • Policy initiatives that link aquaculture to various water uses to improve human health are needed. Areas of inquiry can include institutional efforts to improve extension related to aquaculture and aquatic resources management; science-based policy recommendations targeting poor subpopulations within a project area, or more broadly (for example, national aquaculture strategies); methods of improving access to fish of vulnerable populations including children (e.g., school-based aquaculture programs); science-based strategies for integrating aquaculture with other water uses to improve wellbeing, such as linkages with clean drinking water and improved sanitation. Additionally, social and cultural analyses regarding the impacts of fish farming may yield critical information for informing policy development.
    • Aquaculture is a rapidly growing industry and its risks and impacts on livelihoods need to be assessed. Significant researchable issues in this arena include cost, price, and risk relationships; domestic market and distribution needs and trends; the relationships between aquaculture and women/underrepresented groups; the availability of financial resources for small farms; and the effects of subsidies, taxes, and other regulations. Understanding constraints across value chains in local, regional, and international markets is of interest, especially as constraints affect competitiveness, market demand, and how to link producers to specific markets.
    • Aquaculture development that makes wise use of natural resources is at the core of the AquaFish Innovation Lab program. Research that yields a better understanding of aquaculture as one competing part of an integrated water use system is of great interest. The range of research possibilities is broad—from investigations that quantify water availability and quality to those that look into the social context of water and aquaculture, including land and water rights, national and regional policies (or the lack thereof), traditional versus industrial uses, and the like. Water quality issues are of increasing concern as multiple resource use conflicts increase under trends toward scarcity or uneven supply and access, especially for freshwater. Ecoregional analysis is also of interest to explore spatial differences in the capacities and potentials of ecosystems in response to disturbances. Innovative research on maximizing water and soil quality and productivity of overall watersheds is of interest. Pollution is a huge concern, as over 50% of people in developing countries are exposed to polluted water sources. Additionally, aquatic organisms cannot adequately grow and reproduce in polluted waters, and aquaculture may not only be receiving polluted waters, but adding to the burden. Rapid urbanization has further harmed coastal ecosystems, and with small-scale fisheries and aquaculture operations in the nearshore, integrated management strategies for coastal areas are also important.
    • With the rapid growth in aquaculture production, environmental externalities are of increasing concern. Determining the scope and mitigating or eliminating negative environmental impacts of aquaculture—such as poor management practices and the effects of industrial aquaculture—is a primary research goal of this program. A focus on biodiversity conservation, especially in biodiversity “hotspot” areas, as related to emerging or existing fish farms is of great interest. Therefore, research on the impacts of farmed fish on wild fish populations, and research on other potential negative impacts of farmed fish or aquaculture operations is needed, along with scenarios and options for mitigation.