Popular fish such as blue fin tuna and coho salmon are staples of the seafood lover’s diet. But they are being overfished and increasingly it’s not just the sweet, tender burgundy flesh of the blue fin tuna or the deep orange filet of a coho salmon that has become scarce.

Finfish are on a collision course with poor farming practices and ocean overfishing — making seafood production worldwide perilously insufficient for the current demand. In the United States alone the seafood trade deficit is second only to oil, and it is estimated the U.S. currently imports 90 percent of its seafood.

Virginia Cooperative Extension Seafood Specialist Mike Schwarz is working to address these critical issues of food security, and in particular the production of finfish and oysters, at the Seafood Agricultural and Research Extension Center in Hampton Roads, Virginia.

The Seafood AREC conducts aquaculture nutrition research using cobia and pompano to help producers increase production in an economically viable and sustainable way using plant-based fish feed. Fishmeal, feed made from fish, is widely used in aquaculture but it’s become prohibitively expensive for many aquaculture practitioners. Schwarz conducts nutrition studies to measure how much actual fish feed is necessary in addition to plant feed for the fish to retain a pleasing color and texture and for consumers.

“We need to grow a lot more seafood and we have to decrease the use of fish meal to make it more economical and sustainable,” said Schwarz. “The future for aquaculture is less fish meal and we’re helping get there.”