home_osuPIKETON, Ohio – An innovative program offered by the Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences is looking to recruit, mentor and grow a new crop of fish farmers.

The Ohio Center for Aquaculture Research and Development at the Ohio State University South Centers is offering 25 new and beginning fish farmers a hands-on approach to aquaculture and the business of fish farming through a year-long program that gives participants the opportunity to study the issue at the Piketon facility.

The OSU South Centers are a part of the college.

Called Aquaculture Boot Camp, the ultimate goal of the training is to “transform civilians into fish farmers,” said Estefania James, who works with the program at the OSU South Centers.

Aquaculture — which includes the breeding, rearing and harvesting of plants and animals in ponds, rivers, lakes and the ocean for food, sport, bait, ornamental fish, sea vegetables, fish eggs and algae — is a strong and growing industry thanks to the increasing demand from consumers looking for healthier food options, she said.

“Not only is the consumer demand for seafood growing locally, but the fish farming industry as a whole is growing worldwide as more and more consumers seek to buy and eat seafood as a healthier food option,” James said. “As more consumers view seafood as a low-fat, high-protein source of food, the demand is growing for more fish farmers to produce the goods.”

In Ohio, there are about 200 fish farmers registered statewide, according to a 2010 survey by Laura Tiu, a researcher at the OSU South Centers. And many of them say they’d like to gain additional training in new and innovative production techniques, according to the survey.

“Aquaculture is a strong growth industry because there aren’t as many people doing it,” James said. “So one of the goals of our training program is to increase the number of people working in the fish farming industry for food consumption.

“The program uses a multi-faceted approach, including classroom and hands-on training paired with industry mentoring, to improve the success rate of new and beginning aquaculture farmers so we can increase the number of those with the skills and knowledge required to successfully own and operate a fish farm.”

During the year, participants will take part in 12, one-day training sessions that will include workshops on aquaculture, farm tours, homework and study assignments, and the opportunity to work on an operating fish farm.

Students will end the program with a complete business plan for their operation, James said. And participants will also have access to trainers and mentors in the field.

The program is free of charge, thanks to a three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Applications for the program are available at http://go.osu.edu/abc and are due by Nov. 15. Applicants will be notified of selection by Dec. 13, and the first day of the boot camp will be Jan. 11, 2014, at the OSU South Centers at Piketon.

For more information on the program, contact James at 740-289-2071 or 800-297-2072, ext. 127, or email james.742@osu.edu.