This ERC planning grant will bring together scientists and engineers from universities, Sea Grant programs, aquaculture innovation centers, associations, and industry in a series of in-person and online planning meetings where they will establish trust, working relationships, and common frameworks and language to develop a full ERC proposal focused on developing Sustainable Offshore Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture (O-IMTA) in the US. Seafood is a crucial source of protein and key to ending hunger and fostering a healthy public, both in the US and across the globe. The US imports over 90% of seafood consumed domestically, and wild capture fisheries production has plateaued since the mid-1990s. Key technical advances and collaborative approaches to innovative offshore fish farming strategies are necessary to satisfy the U.S. demand for seafood, in a sustainable and economically viable manner, and to make the U.S. seafood industry more independent and secure. Moving aquaculture offshore into deeper waters presents the opportunity to access less crowded, cleaner, and more nutrient-rich environments; however, locating in deeper waters can increase operational costs and technical challenges. Our team will strive to develop a roadmap for a cohesive ERC focused on addressing key technical challenges for O-IMTA: including the development of novel technologies, materials, and sensors to ensure aquaculture farms withstand environmental forces (e.g., waves) and conditions (e.g., temperature and changing water quality), reducing environmental impact of offshore systems, and increasing system autonomy to require minimal human interaction, all while maintaining economically viable and healthy production output.

Fulfilling the promise of O-IMTA poses multiple scientific and technological challenges - socio-technical, infrastructure systems, and enabling technologies - and requires the convergence of biophysical, social, and engineering sciences within a transdisciplinary framework. We will focus on three preliminary research thrusts: (1) circularity, sustainability, and system analysis and design; (2) structures and equipment for installation and operation of aquaculture, including automation, energy, and communications; and (3) sensing, monitoring, and data analysis, including IoT (Internet of Things), Big Data and AI (Artificial Intelligence) for site selection and operations. The planning grant will facilitate a series of in-person and online planning meetings, and site visits to regional aquaculture centers, where participants from universities, Sea Grant programs, aquaculture innovation centers, associations, and industry can establish trust, working relationships, collaborations, and common frameworks and language. The outcomes of the meetings will include a shared vision for O-IMTA, identification of the key challenges for making O-IMTA sustainable and economically viable and the crystallizing research thrusts needed to overcome these challenges. Additional outcomes will include developing programs and road maps for education, workforce development, inclusion and diversity, and an innovation ecosystem that considers the needs and constraints of industry and society; recruiting additional investigators and practitioner collaborators; and designing an organizational structure for an ERC focused on O-IMTA innovation.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Engineering Education and Centers (EEC)
Standard Grant (Standard)
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Sarit Bhaduri
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Massachusetts Institute of Technology
United States
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