UAPB Aquaculture & Fisheries Center of Excellence has continued to be marked by research excellence, community outreach, and the high level of student employability.
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The UAPB Aquaculture & Fisheries Center of Excellence is unique in its dedication to a well-rounded education in the field of aquaculture. Established in 1988, The Center of Excellence combines resident instruction, research, and extension responsibilities into one comprehensive unit. UAPB’s Aquaculture and Fisheries Center has distinguished itself as the only research-based aquaculture program at a non-research-based university, and the only comprehensive aquaculture program within the University of Arkansas system. The Center’s faculty, staff and students are not just limited to classroom instruction but work together across multiple disciplines to provide relevant research and solutions for aquacultural issues in Arkansas, the Delta, and the rest of the United States.
According to the Arkansas Department of Agriculture, Arkansas ranks second in the United States for aquaculture production. A fact only elevated by UAPB’s research and development of a crop of dedicated and gifted aquaculture specialists through its varied degree programs. The bachelor’s degree program in Aquaculture and Fishery Sciences offers four concentrations: a general track, aquaculture, fisheries science and aquaculture, and seafood business. The university expanded its course offerings to include a master’s degree track in 1997 and a doctorate degree track in 2011. The Center’s emphasis on fieldwork and research ensure that students who graduate from the program are extremely employable in Arkansas, across the U.S., and beyond. In a 2020 interview UAPB Fisheries Science Professor Michael Eggleton said, “About 70 percent [of undergraduates] started out working in a career relevant to their degree. They were working at a hatchery at some point or for Arkansas Game and Fish or the [U.S.] Fish and Wildlife Service or some other agency. They have not only started out there but 20 years later several hold supervisor positions. Others work for commercial fish farms — not so much in Arkansas but scattered all around the country.”
Another reason for the job opportunities of so many students is because UAPB is the only college that has the specialized aquaculture degree track compared to schools like Arkansas State University, who only offer a degree in wildlife, fisheries and conservation, and other colleges have biology tracks with fisheries concentrations. With this specialized degree track comes smaller class sizes that offer more individualized instruction.
In recent years the Center has received numerous research grants because of its research excellence. In 2021, a $3 million grant was awarded to the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff’s Aquaculture/Fisheries Department by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service. The five year grant aims to provide formal evaluation of the NRCS’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Program – Wetland Reserve Easements (ACEP-WRE) program, which will allow landowners to share the cost of converting their retired farmlands back into native wetland with the NRCS. The fieldwork and experiments will include groups across Arkansas, including other universities, non-government organizations, and even government agencies. At the conclusion of the study, the lead researcher Professor Eggleton will compile a report to help disseminate the results to best benefit Arkansas’ local habitats and ecosystems.
In 2022, the Center also received a two-year, $109,000 aquaponics research grant from the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The research will examine the use of freshwater aquaponics to produce high-value, fresh produce, including herbs, vegetables and flowers. Aquaponic production systems often utilize a much smaller physical footprint compared to traditional farming, which means this research could allow greater access to locally grown, fresh produce in urban areas and counter the effects of food deserts across the U.S..
The Center also partners with many different agencies across Arkansas, including county agents, fish farmers, farm pond owners, and natural resource managers, and attracts students from across the world. In a recent interview with UAPB News, Andrew Maina, a UAPB alumni from Kenya highly recommended UAPB’s Department of Aquaculture and Fisheries. He stated, “The research skills I gained at UAPB continue to help me in my career. During my studies, I enjoyed working with professors and students from different backgrounds on research that truly supported Arkansas and the region.” Throughout the Center’s time teaching and training students at UAPB this has proven to be the prevailing opinion.
Written by: Ninfa O. Barnard