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UConn Advance

Aquaculture schools grow in scope
By Renu Sehgal
March 28, 1997

High school students interested in marine sciences now have schools of their own.

Connecticut has two vocational-aquaculture schools as part of the Vocational-Agricultural School System, ensuring that the state will continue to have a highly skilled work force competitive in the emerging aquaculture industry and in marine trades.

The first permanent school opened in Bridgeport in 1993 after five years as one of four interdistrict pilot programs in the state. Some vo-ag schools also have included aquaculture education in their curriculum.

"The Bridgeport school has a modern-day aquacultural production facility and is a teaching tool for students," said Lance Stewart, an extension professor in marine sciences who has been an integral part of the team in creating the schools. "It's a stimulus the students don't get from a regular school. They are out on the water, out in nature."

The school has sponsored visiting Chinese scientists to perfect a type of bay scallop culture and will follow a UConn proposal to grow eels. "It's akin to a college environment," Stewart said.

The high schools teach a variety of marine subjects, ranging from boat building to fish and shellfish culture. Students are selected from area applicants and are judged by their interests. In addition to lectures, hands-on activities and lab classes, the students are required to complete community service projects.

The concept of vo-aquaculture has developed during the past 17 years. In 1980, the Connecticut Agriculture Consulting Committee formally identified the need for the schools and proposed them within the vo-ag school system. Pilot projects were established in Ledyard in 1985, Bridgeport in 1988 and in New Haven in 1994.

Enrollment applications have skyrocketed and several other towns, including Old Saybrook and Groton, are actively interested in opening additional schools.

Stewart and other University faculty drafted the original curricula and provided the team with expert advice on aquaculture science and technology. The scope of course electives was developed with input from the industry, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University.

"The aquaculture industry in Connecticut is substantial and growing. It has motivated the Department of Agriculture, the University and the state Legislature to found vo-aquaculture schools so the industry has skilled workers in the future," Stewart said. Successful program
The program has become a success. The Aquaculture School received funds to build a $7.5 million building at Captain's Cove Seaport on Black Rock Harbor in Bridgeport.

The school opened in 1993, and is now the largest of the vo-ag schools in the state, with 300 students. It received a 56-foot instructional vessel, the Catherine Moore, in 1995.

The second school, the Sound School Regional Vocational Aquaculture Center in New Haven, received a $12 million grant to build its permanent home on the site of an abandoned sewage treatment plant. Enrollment is currently at 100 students and is expected to double next year. The school plans to have a pathology lab, a trout hatchery and a wood and glass boat shop.

Vo-aqua schools are the first step toward providing the marine industry with skilled workers, Stewart said. To encourage further growth, he has asked the National Science Foundation to fund a network of educators, businesses, environmental organizations and economic development agencies.

Called AQUA, the network would encompass middle schools, high schools, two-year colleges and universities in New England. Its primary goal would be to prepare teachers and faculty to develop curricula and labs for vo-aquaculture students.

AQUA also would help faculty develop business management curricula that will prepare students to participate in the development and management of new businesses in the region.

The University's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources is developing its own minor in aquaculture while a major in coastal studies in the marine sciences department awaits approval.

"World seafood demand is expected to increase 70 percent in the next 35 years, but aquaculture only supplies 10 to 15 percent of U.S. seafood needs," Stewart said. "The United States and especially New England have the potential to develop a highly competitive, technologically advanced aquatic farming industry."

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