Sponsor an annual colloquium on research needs of the aquaculture industry.

Generate support for infrastructure to create state-of-the-art facilities.

Advance research designed to answer relevant questions regarding sustainable practices.


Partnership with industries aimed at solving real problems in aquaculture science and production, and addressing broader societal issues (e.g., biofuels/energy independence, food security, and restoration of natural populations).


300-gallons integrated seaweed tanks

Solving Impediments to the Co-Culture of Seaweeds and Shellfish

Mike Graham and Scott Hamilton received $132,000 of funding from NOAA Sea Grant to investigate how integrated multi-trophic aquaculture of seaweeds and shellfish (oysters and abalone) may potentially mitigate the negative effects of ocean acidification on shellfish growth. Changing ocean pH is having negative impacts on oyster growers in the Pacific Northwest, and potentially on any shellfish growers, especially at the hatchery/nursery scale. Seaweeds, however, thrive off increased carbon dioxide and can buffer ocean acidification. We have added 24 new 300-gallon tanks to create a replicated design to assess the effectiveness of various species of seaweed in mitigating different acidification scenarios on the growth and health of shellfish. We are partnering with Hog Island Oysters and Monterey Abalone Company in this project. We are measuring shellfish growth with and without the seaweed buffer and seaweed growth with and without the added shellfish nutrients. In addition to providing much needed experimental scientific information on the effects of ocean acidification on shellfish hatcheries/nurseries, this project may demonstrate the utility of land-based integrates seaweed-abalone farms for expansion of the shellfish industry in California. Monitor the aquarium oxygen levels here.


Click the images below to see real-time Aquarium Room Oxygen Levels & Temperature (Left) and the Intake Seawater Quality Conditions (Right):

Forecasting the Effects of Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia on Reproduction of West Coast Groundfish

Scott Hamilton has received $298,000 of funding from NSF, NOAA Saltonstall-Kennedy, and California Sea Grant to assess the impacts of ocean acidification (OA) and hypoxia on temperate fishes. Current work involves studying how these climate change stressors can (1) affect reproduction and embryo development in multiple species of groundfish and (2) impact the behavior and physiology of juvenile fishes. We have added a new trailer with computer controls to allow precise control of pH and dissolved oxygen in 24 new tanks to assess the impacts of changing ocean chemistry on commercially important fishes. Water quality of these tanks are continuously monitored and published data can be seen here.

(A) Normal gopher rockfish larva at birth, gestated in ambient oxygen conditions (B) Deformed larva gestated in low oxygen conditions

Native Olympia Oyster Culturing at MLML Supplements Elkhorn Slough Population

With funding from Anthropocene Institute and a collaboration with Kerstin Wasson (Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve) we have started a hatchery for the native Olympia Oyster (Ostrea lurida) with the intent of restocking impacted populations of this oyster in Elkhorn Slough and possibly later in San Francisco Bay. This project also requires the culture of microalgae as a food source for the developing oysters. We also monitor the water quality where these oysters are kept and published data can be seen here.

Sea Feeds: Identification and Culture of Californian Marine Macroalgae Capable of Reducing Greenhouse Gas Production from Ruminant Livestock

Luke Gardner, Scott Hamilton, and Mike Graham received $ 206,000 of funding from UC Sea Grant to identify and culture California marine macroalgae capable of reducing greenhouse gas production from ruminant livestock. Approximately 29% of methane produced in California comes from ruminants, of which dairy cows are the most prominent producer of methane. Including seaweeds as 2% of the ruminants diet can greatly reduce methane production. We will collect approximately 30 seaweed species off the California coastline for in vitro ruminate analysis measuring digestion and gas production. Seaweeds will be tested for culture potential in aquaculture systems. Then we will test the most promising candidate species using in vivo trials in collaboration with the USDA.

Eat your greens: Evaluating microalgae supplemented feeds for sablefish nutrition and growth (Funder: CA Sea Grant, Amount: $80,000)

MLML graduate student, Katie Neylan, and her advisors Luke Gardner and Scott Hamilton received $80,000 from California Sea Grant to investigate the replacement of fish oil with a microalga for sablefish aquaculture. Finfish aquaculture is the largest contributor to the aquaculture industry, but the industry relies heavily on feeds that contain wild-caught forage fish, which is quickly becoming an unsustainable option. Forage fish are widely used in aquaculture feeds because fish meal and fish oil are easily digestible and contain proper nutrition profiles and essential fatty acids for farmed fish. However, forage fish stocks cannot withstand heavy fishing pressure as the aquaculture industry grows. Alternative feed ingredients, including microalgae, are being studied to replace fish meal and fish oil in aquaculture feeds. These researchers will examine the microalga, Schizochytrium sp., as a replacement for fish oil in sablefish feeds and determine the effects of the alternative ingredient on fish growth, condition, and fatty acid profile. The inclusion of microalgae into finfish diets could ensure that beneficial fatty acids are present in cultured fish at harvest while reducing fishing pressure on forage fish stocks. As sablefish are becoming more popular in the aquaculture industry, this study will present relevant findings for the sustainable expansion of sablefish in the industry.

Juvenile sablefish being fed fish pellets

White abalone in the MLML aquaculture facility

White Abalone Restoration and Probiotics to Treat Withering Syndrome (Funder: NOAA, Amount: $52,609)

Luke Gardner received funding from NOAA to rear endangered white abalone (Haliotis sorenseni) in aquaculture before outplanting them into the wild to recover their dwindling populations. This project is partnering with the Bodega Marine Laboratories to restore the shrinking white abalone populations. Bodega Marine Laboratories is part of the White Abalone Restoration Consortium, working to improve culturing methods, captive breeding, and disease research. To reduce disease in cultured white abalone this research will investigate the use of probiotics to treat withering syndrome. Withering syndrome, caused by Candidatus Xenohaliotis californiensis Bacterium (Ca.Xc) is a bacterial infection, which reduces, growth, feeding rates, survivorship, and the tissues in the digestive tract, foot and mantle of infected abalone. The only treatment for this infection is an antibiotic, which can cause antibiotic resistance genes rendering the antibiotic ineffective. Effluents from antibiotic treated water could spread antibiotic resistance genes to wild species and to humans through the food web. Antibiotics can also kill the beneficial gut bacteria in treated organisms. Therefore, antibiotics are not a viable therapeutic or preventative treatment. Probiotics could be used instead to combat withering syndrome and improve the overall health of cultured white abalone. The use of probiotics in aquaculture could also improve immune health and growth whether or not bacterial infections are present.

Purple Urchin Alternative Feed Study

Luke Gardner’s aquaculture class conducted an alternative feed study for purple urchins in 2019 to determine if the Urchenimics formulated feed could produce market size urchins and reduce the negative impacts of urchins on California kelp forests. Urchins are ferocious herbivores able to mow down kelp forests creating urchin barrens that can persist for years. Scientists have seen an increase in urchin barrens along the California coast, which has led to urchin removal efforts to restore the ecologically diverse and important kelp forest ecosystem. The urchins removed from urchin barrens could also be profitable under the right conditions. Urchin gonads if large enough can be harvested and sold as roe or uni. Wild urchins found in urchin barrens have small gonads unsuitable for the uni market, but if collected from the wild and raised in aquaculture these gonads could reach market size within a few months. This study reared wild purple urchins in aquaculture and fed them three different diets to determine which diet would be most effective at producing market sized roe. Purple urchins were collected from the wild on SCUBA. They were placed in tanks based on feed treatment groups. The control group of purple urchins did not receive any feed throughout the study. One treatment group was fed Macrocystis pyrifera and another received Ogo, while the third treatment group received the formulated feed from Urchinomics. The urchins fed formulated feed had the largest increase in gonad size throughout the study, while Ogo produced the second largest gonads. The study showed that purple urchins collected from the wild could be reared in aquaculture and reach market unit size. Students from the aquaculture course are now working on publishing this study.

Purple urchin dissection to remove and measure the changes in gonads

The urchin test is measured to account for the growth of the urchins throughout the study

An adult Monkeyface prickleback in one of our outdoor tanks at Moss Landing's Center for Aquaculture

Graduate student Matthew Hoehn fishes for Monkeyface pricklebacks on the north jetty at Moss Landing

Development of techniques for the cultivation of monkeyface pricklebacks (Cebidichthys violaceus) as a sustainable alternative to Unagi. (Funder CA Sea Grant, NOAA Salton-Kennedy, Amount $200,674).

As a first step in developing a new species for aquaculture, graduate student Matthew Hoehn is developing spawning techniques and maturation protocols for captive breeding Monkeyface pricklebacks. These fish are a potential candidate for sustainable aquaculture because they are naturally herbivorous, and as such not reliant on wild caught fish meal and fish oil (considered unsustainable ingredients in aquaculture diets in the long term) or equivalent alternatives.  Their herbivory also means they are candidates for integrated multi-tropic aquaculture (IMTA) in that they would be well suited to be cultured alongside seaweed. Wild Monkeyface pricklebacks are in increasing demand in high-end restaurant markets, with their flavor reportedly similar to Unagi. Unagi is considered an unsustainable product in seafood markets, but the development of farmed Monkeyface pricklebacks could be marketed as a sustainable alternative to Unagi.
Lots of research is necessary for developing new aquaculture species. For example, optimizing growth rates by determining nutrition needs or changing tank settings will give important production information. However, being able to reliably spawn and raise animals without drawing on wild populations regularly is crucial to the successful and sustainable development of a new aquaculture species. Being able to culture future generations of fish in a closed life-cycle operation creates a system that can then be independent from wild populations and means growing Monkeyface pricklebacks will not negatively impact wild populations. Successfully reproducing Monkeyface pricklebacks in captivity will be a major milestone for understanding their viability as a new species in sustainable aquaculture.

Using aquaculture to help mitigate impacts of harmful algal blooms on crustacean fisheries: accelerating depuration to produce safe and marketable seafood products (Funder: CA Sea Grant, Amount: $58,740)

In collaboration with California Sea Grant extension specialists in Humboldt and Santa Barbara, MLML lead by Luke Gardner will be assessing the potential for depuration of domoic acid from California crustacean fisheries. Specifically, MLML will be examining depuration in wild caught Dungeness crabs. West coast recreational and commercial crab and lobster fisheries and communities have been severely impacted by harmful algal blooms (HABs). Most notably, a widespread and persistent HAB event in 2015-16 resulted in extended commercial crab fishery season closures and delays that lasted for up to seven months along much of the coast. These measures were taken to protect the public from domoic acid (DA) which can cause amnesic shellfish poisoning. Losses to California’s commercial crab fisheries alone were estimated at more than $49 million, with additional losses to recreational fisheries. Given these significant impacts, and the projection that such HAB events will increase in frequency and intensity due to changing ocean conditions, there is a critical need for mitigation measures to reduce similar losses in the future. This project will evaluate the potential for accelerating depuration of DA from crab and lobster through four parameters: 1) feeding, 2) temperature, 3) emersion, and 4) cumulative parameters. The successful development of an aquaculture protocol would not only help coastal communities and associated food systems become more resilient to harmful algal blooms, but also illustrate ways for integrating aquaculture and fisheries.

Dungeness crab (photo from Bloomberg via Getty Images)

‘Tickling" a purple hinged rock scallop to encourage the opening of the valves to determine gender and stage of gonad development

Purple Hinged Rock Scallops – development of hatchery technology (Funder: Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, Amount: $120,000; CA Sea Grant - $34,000)

The purple hinged rock scallop (Crassadoma gigantea) is a promising species for mariculture on the West Coast. The species has a broad range (Alaska to Mexico) and grows rapidly, reaching market size in 2-4 years, similar to red abalone. Live rock scallops also have high market value. There is no significant commercial fishery for the species, however, and little is known about how to culture these scallops in captivity. One recurring impediment to commercially viable rock scallop culture is poor larval survival. Our project aims to specifically address this impediment by testing larval tank designs to reduce kinetic stress and tank abrasion. We also will examine factors associated with feeding and diet to develop effective and efficient methods for maintaining healthy broodstock and achieving successful larval metamorphosis of rock scallops. In particular we will identify the size and type of particles comprising the diet of scallops in the field; determine key functional groups and species comprising scallop diet required for gametogenesis and metamorphosis; and evaluate the effect of water flow on gonad development, and settlement of larvae.

Impacts of hypoxia on juvenile flatfish in Elkhorn Slough (Funder: COAST, Amount: $19,820).

Scott Hamilton, Tom Connolly, and Cheryl Logan have received $19,820 from the Council on Ocean Affairs, Science, and Technology (COAST) to investigate the impacts of hypoxia on juvenile flatfish in the Elkhorn Slough. Recent increases in pollution and agricultural runoff have put our estuaries at increasing risk of oxygen depletion, which can have detrimental impacts on marine life. Students Juliana Cornett and Grace Teranishi will use the resources at MLML’s Aquaculture Facility to test the impacts of hypoxia on the growth, survivorship, and physiological function of the juvenile speckled sanddab, C. stigmaeus.

Photo of the Elkhorn Slough