Practicum Project Reflection

Sustainable Aquaculture at the Freshwater Institute

For my practicum project, I worked at the Freshwater Institute, a program of the Conservation Fund. It is located in Shepherdstown, WV, buried in back roads at a beautiful location. Although you would never suspect it from looking at it casually from the road, a large research facility sits behind the trees. There, large numbers of research projects are worked on everyday, focusing on utilizing the region's freshwater resources.

Because I live about two miles away from the Institute, I have been aware of its existence for a while. Once I declared my major as Environmental Science, concentrating on Marine and Coastal Management, I realized that it would be an ideal place for me to work. I searched for their website through Google, and contacted them through their general email address listed on their main page. John Davidson, who would end up being my site supervisor, responded with an email expressing interest in having me work there over winter break. I was thrilled, and I took the position as soon as I could.

The Institute is divided up into three main buildings, where different projects led by different people are occurring. I worked with John in the tank pad, the building where his main research projects were taking place. The tank pad houses two large tanks, which are about the size of an aboveground swimming pool, 16 medium tanks, and four small tanks. The large tanks held Atlantic salmon, the largest being about 30 pounds in size, the medium tanks held Arctic char and trout, and the small tanks held young trout. My job was to complete a list of daily tasks that focused on general care and maintenance of the fish. I cleaned the tanks and systems, measured and recorded dissolved oxygen and temperatures of the fish systems, I assisted with fish length and weight sampling, fish harvesting, and data entry, and I weighed food, filled feeders, calibrated feeders, and assisted with other miscellaneous tasks.

Through this internship, I learned a lot about fisheries management, as well as the rising need for aquaculture. Because wild fish populations are dropping, places like the Freshwater Institute are extremely relevant. The projects that I helped with focused on ways to make aquaculture more sustainable, while also producing larger numbers of healthy fish. Because the project is a five year project, and I only worked there for a month, I didn't get to really experience the full impact of the work. However, even with the short time that I was there, I saw changes in the sizes of fish and changes in their internal organs, specifically their reproductive systems, based on the different conditions they were exposed to.

I also learned about some of the competition that happens among fish suppliers. Specific formulas are made to produce the "best" fish, and there is a huge competition among growers to find the best formula. The Freshwater Institute can end up right in the middle of this competition because they are the ones coming up with those formulas. There were a lot of important steps that I had to take to ensure that a fish from one supplier didn't end up in the tank of another supplier because huge legal action could ensue.

Although the connections may not be easily seen on the surface, my work at the Freshwater Institute had many of the deeper issues at its core that I am currently studying here at the University of Maryland. Climate change and overfishing are the human components that affect the natural processes of fish growth. Wild fish populations are dropping at an alarming rate due to those human components, and the United States are having to rely on foreign imports to keep up with seafood demands. The Freshwater Institute's research in sustainable aquaculture can serve as a solution to alleviate the harm done from both of those human components. Aquaculture serves as a way to reduce the number of seafood imports we rely on, and its sustainability could reduce harmful emissions, whether they're airborne or waterborne.

Working at the Freshwater Institute brought to life many of the issues that I read about on a regular basis. Although I have felt that I am a fairly aware citizen on the importance of fish populations, I gained a real appreciation and connection to the issue through my internship. I recognized how important fish are to my diet and our nation's diet. I also recognized the other benefits of fish within their ecosystem. Therefore, by working at the Freshwater Institute, I realized how important its work actually is. This internship has made me feel even more passionate about my major, and has made me want to become even more involved in the fish population's crisis. In fact, in several weeks, I will be volunteering at the Blue Vision Summit in Washington, DC, which will hopefully expose me to even more solutions. I am planning on continuing my work at the Institute over the winter breaks to come, and I will look for similar job opportunities whenever I can.

Last modified: 10 May 2011