There are plenty of fish in the sea when it comes to aquaculture research projects for Jonathan van Senten, a new assistant professor in the Virginia Tech Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics.

Van Senten joined the department this spring and is located at the Virginia Seafood Agriculture and Research Extension Center in Hampton, Virginia, where he works with a team of scholars from various departments within the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences on issues impacting the aquaculture industry.

“We’re the nexus between the university and industry,” said van Senten. “We all work together and build our projects in a comprehensive way so that they meet the needs of industry.”

Taking over the role of now retired Daniel Kauffman, van Senten is building his research program around providing information for fish farmers nation-wide.

“The U.S. lags behind other developed countries in this sector,” van Senten said. “The U.S. has a lot of the technology to grow this area but there are inefficiencies that must be addressed first to make that growth happen.”

These inefficiencies are often caused by a “complex matrix of agencies and regulations,” according to van Senten, who travels the country collecting data from producers on aquaculture practices and compliance costs to examine the relationship between regulation and farming.

Agencies from the United States Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency, Fish and Wildlife Service, to the Army Corps all have a stake in the aquaculture industry. But regulations are not streamlined, which increases the compliance burden on producers.

Van Senten looks at the economic impact of compliance, from direct compliance fees such as the cost of permits and application fees to indirect costs including time spent filling out reports and making infrastructure changes.

“When we identify things and are able to offer helpful information to farmers about where they can save or become more efficient, that makes a real change to someone else’s life or business,” said van Senten.

As part of the AREC’s land-grant function, findings are distributed via Extension publications, infographics, fact sheets, and more on the Seafood AREC website.

Van Senten is currently completing a nation-wide study on the salmonid industry and is interested in future research that investigates user conflict from new farm opposition and mass hatchery mortality.

Van Senten earned a bachelor’s degree in marine biology from Barry University, a master’s in marine affairs and policy from the University of Miami, and a Ph.D. in aquaculture and fisheries from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

-          Written by Jillian Broadwell