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Ecosystems & Aquaculture Division

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Chief: Dr. Tom Noji

The Ecosystems and Aquaculture Division develops scientific knowledge on the interactions between the environment and marine biota, to promote sustainable wild-caught and cultivated fisheries, and to conserve protected species in the Northeast Continental Shelf ecosystem, nationally and internationally.


Major research themes include ecosystem processes and environmental conditions for production of harvestable algae, invertebrates and vertebrates; the processes linking spatial and temporal patterns in climate with regional and local responses of species and their habitats; and the positive and negative influences of human activities upon ecosystem function and services. This is accomplished by the coordination and design of field surveys and laboratory investigations conducted by five research branches with staff across the Northeast.

Better understanding of these processes enables the Division to develop technologies and recommendations to promote the growth of a highly productive aquaculture industry, to support assessment and management of protected and harvested species, and more generally to support the development of Ecosystem Based Fisheries Management in the Northeast Region.

Aquaculture Sustainability Branch

Chief: Dr. Gary Wikfors

The Aquaculture Sustainability Assessment Branch evaluates current and proposed marine aquaculture practices for technical effectiveness, environmental compatibility, and sustained commercial success. The Branch develops methods and technologies to improve production of cultivated seafood, thereby, supporting the expansion of domestic aquaculture. Multiple scientific disciplines within the Branch are applied to high-priority projects in a team-based approach that is supplemented by collaborative relationships locally, nationally, and internationally. Branch expertise includes but is not limited to, marine chemistry, aquaculture system design, shellfish physiology, marine microbiology, immunology, and genetics.

Aquaculture Systems & Ecology Branch

Chief: Dr. Lisa Milke

The Aquaculture Systems and Ecology Branch conducts research to improve our understanding of the ecology of estuarine, coastal and off-shore waters, and evaluates the interactions between these habitats and aquaculture practices. The Branch supports the development of technologies for culturing commercially and recreationally important species, provides aquaculture science to industry partners and policy makers, and works closely with industry partners. Branch expertise includes, but is not limited to, marine chemistry, aquaculture systems design, marine ecology, and fish and shellfish physiology.

Fisheries Ecology Branch

Chief: Dr. Beth Phelan

The Fisheries Ecology Branch employs a multi-disciplinary approach in evaluating the environmental conditions and mechanisms that affect recruitment, distribution, growth and survival of fisheries on the Northeast continental shelf. Biotic processes such as reproduction, fertilization, development, growth, metabolic rate, trophic relations, and survival are investigated in relation to abiotic factors such as temperature, carbonate chemistry, dissolved oxygen, contaminants and other stressors. The Branch develops methodologies, provides ecological information to managers and stakeholders, and establishes a mechanistic understanding of the dynamics of living marine resources including their susceptibility and resilience to present day and future environmental challenges. Branch expertise includes, but is not limited to, marine chemistry, fisheries biology and physiology.

Habitat Ecology Branch

Chief: Dr. Vincent Guida

The Habitat Ecology Branch conducts field and laboratory research and provides information to stakeholders regarding fisheries habitats and their functions in maintaining sustainable fisheries in the Northeast Continental Shelf ecosystem in relation to anthropogenic alterations and climate change. The Branch conducts research on the status of living marine resource populations, determining the functional value of habitats and how habitat loss, degradation, restoration, and mitigation affect ecosystem services including aquaculture, productivity and diversity. Research tools include sampling cruises, database development, analysis and modeling, and chemical analysis related to the status, health, distribution, and movements of fisheries stocks and protected species. Research often includes multi-disciplinary and multi-agency expertise, and encourages collaborations with managers and academic researchers as well as with industry partners. Branch expertise includes, but is not limited to, marine ecology, fisheries biology, chemistry, and geographical information system analysis.

Oceans & Climate Branch

Chief: Dr. Paula Fratantoni

Go to the Oceans & Climate website

The Oceans and Climate Branch analyzes data collected on the Northeast Continental Shelf ecosystem to understand how the components of the ecosystem influence the distribution, abundance, and productivity of living marine resources (LMRs). Shelf-wide shipboard surveys are conducted throughout the year on seasonal variations in plankton, water column temperature and salinity, and ocean chemistry. The observations contribute to a comprehensive climate-quality database that indexes changes in ecosystem conditions on seasonal decadal timescales. These surveys are also used as a platform for process-oriented research to better understand the interactions between oceanography and population dynamics. Research is conducted in an Ecosystem Based Fisheries Management approach and aimed at developing understanding, tools and databases for addressing climate, ecosystem and habitat issues in stock assessments; gauging ocean acidification; developing advanced technologies for ecosystem monitoring; and estimating the impact of a changing climate on fisheries, aquaculture and protected species. Branch expertise includes but is not limited to physical oceanography, fisheries biology and plankton ecology.

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