Aug 22, 2019

Working Together to Go Farther: An Update on CTSA Supported Aquaculture Activities in the RMI

By CTSA Executive Director Dr. Cheng-Sheng Lee and Meredith Brooks

Partnership and travel are two hallmarks of operating the Center for Tropical and Subtropical Aquaculture. The territory we cover is broad, spanning thousands of miles between remote—and oftentimes, small—Pacific Islands. Strategic partnership between islands and leveraging of resources is an essential element to the successful development of any industry in this region. Accordingly, whenever our staff travels, we go to great lengths to open our arms to those who share the same mission to sustainably develop aquaculture. In my capacity as Executive Director of CTSA, I try to meet with as many stakeholders as possible within our territory. Last month, I had the pleasure of packing several important meetings into a three-day trip to Majuro, the main purpose of which was to check in with ongoing CTSA-funded projects.

On this short trip, I went straight from the airport to meet with Ramsey Reimers, a Marshallese businessman and entrepreneur responsible for several successful enterprises in the RMI. I have known Ramsey for a long time. Many years ago, CTSA worked together with him on aquaculture of giant clams. He was the first person who CTSA partnered with in the RMI, and the first to express interest in aquaculture in the RMI as a means to increase the available supply of sustainable seafood. Although he is not currently active in fish farming, Ramsey sees value in investing in sustainable technologies and is excited about the future of aquaculture in Majuro. After our meeting, Ramsey brought me to the local fish market to see how the ocean fish harvest has changed over the years in terms of species and size. According to his observations, there has been a gradual yet significant decrease in the size of wild-caught fish. I completely understand his concerns. Like in many areas of the Pacific, the natural resources are being depleted at a high rate. This was a topic of my discussion with local government and college officials later the same day. 

Throughout my discussions, I always return to the theme of partnership. Aquaculture can be an important solution in addressing the issue of natural resource depletion from multiple angles, but in order to establish a successful aquaculture operation, multiple partnerships need to occur. Capacity must be built through partnerships in research, demonstration, education and training. This is followed by partnerships between capacity builders and industry developers, or the business leaders who will finance the operation. Finally, any operation needs public support and partnership with governments throughout the duration of the process. It helps to ensure a clear regulatory framework. To this end, I met with local government officials Glen Joseph of the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority (MIMRA) and John Silk, Minister of Resources and Development, as well as Dr. Theresa Koroivulaono, President of the College of the Marshall Islands (CMI). We all agree that strategic partnership among our agencies and local farmers is the most effective way to develop sustainable aquaculture, reduce depletion of natural resources, and increase food security in the RMI.

While in Majuro, I also met with colleagues at the Republic of China (ROC) embassy, who informed me they are welcoming a fisheries and aquaponics expert to the RMI this month. It was my pleasure to link them together with CMI to help continue building local capacity for aquaculture in Majuro.

The primary purpose of my trip was to check in with researcher Ryan Murashige, the PI of an ongoing CTSA project on marine finfish aquaculture, and to observe the intensive rabbitfish training workshop that he was leading with researchers Sergio Bolasina of CMI, Miguel de los Santos of Palau Community College, and Manoj Nair of The College of Micronesia (COM). Both the long-term project and short-term workshop are great examples of partnership in action. The multi-year marine finfish project—a collaborative effort between CTSA, ATMI, and the government of Rongelap—is focused on establishing local farming of rabbitfish and moi, two popular fish that have been overfished throughout the region. The two-month intensive workshop—a collaborative effort between CMI, the COM Land Grant Program, CTSA projects, and Aquaculture Technologies of the Marshall Islands (ATMI)—brought together researchers from Palau, Pohnpei and Marshall Islands to train technicians in rabbitfish hatchery and rearing techniques.

During the workshop, I was able to witness firsthand the dedication that Ryan is putting into his work in the RMI, as well as aquaculture development across the region. He led the demonstrations in all aspects of running a successful rabbitfish enterprise from hatchery to harvest, including feed manufacturing. Feed formulation and manufacturing of feed is key to the success of aquaculture in the RMI and the region. Ryan has established an efficient multi-species feed millto produce quality local feeds that can sustain multiple livestock industries, and serve as a great example of how to reduce waste and utilize local agriculture products in remote Pacific Islands. His detailed training on feed included hands-on instruction in feed ingredients, feed composition/formulation, mixing, production of dry and semi-moist pellets, safety of manufacturing, and feeds storage. The technicians and researchers who participated, including CTSA-sponsored researcher Miguel de los Santos, are striving to implement this valuable knowledge in their own rabbitfish and marine finfish production efforts.

I am extremely pleased with the accomplishments Ryan and his team have made to this point, and the work they continue to do. The high-quality work that he is both performing and leading, in addition to Miguel’s involvement, make me proud of CTSA’s contributions to this rabbitfish training workshop and the overall development of marine finfish aquaculture in the Western Pacific. I am looking forward to future capacity building trainings and new partnerships to develop solutions to securing our seafood supply across the Pacific region. I also look forward to another successful trip in our region in the near future!