Genetic Improvement of Germplasm for the U.S. Atlantic Salmon Industry

Lab Representatives

Genetic Improvement of Germplasm for the U.S. Atlantic Salmon Industry

The National Cold Water Marine Aquaculture Center (NCWMAC) selects improved salmon genetics for the North American strain of Atlantic and transfers the germplasm to the domestic salmon farming industry. At least five commercial genetic companies produce and sell eggs from breeding programs for Atlantic salmon based on European strains of Atlantic salmon. In 2000, federal management agencies listed a distinct population segment for Downeast Maine Atlantic salmon as endangered at a time Maine accounted for 73 percent of all domestic production of farmed salmon.

One result of the listing was that the Maine salmon farming industry was restricted to growing salmon of North American origin in 2003. Maine farmers were then required to test all their brood stock for the presence of European genes and to cull all brood stock and offspring that tested positive. They have been required to continue to test all brood stock annually for European genes, and to eliminate animals and offspring that fail to pass the test. This left Maine producers and the domestic salmon farming industry at a significant competitive disadvantage as they no longer had access to improved genetics from the over 30-year-old European salmon breeding programs.

The NCWMAC was established in 2003 to provide a genetic improvement program for North American salmon and to make these available to the domestic industry. Starting with a range of North American strains of Atlantic salmon, the NCWMAC established a family-based breeding program to select for industry-desired traits. The program has gained tremendous industry support due to its success, collaborative nature, and annual gamete releases.

The improved North American salmon genetics are transferred to the salmon farming industry under an agreement with the Maine Aquaculture Association. The program has provided genetic material to four industry partners over the past 10 years. Those partners accounted for over 60 percent of the farm-raised Atlantic salmon in the U.S. when the program began, and currently they account for over 95 percent of the domestic farm -raised Atlantic salmon. Industry participants in the program receive fertilized eggs annually that they are then able to multiply through internal hatcheries. Initially, about 500,000 eggs were transferred to industry annually, but that has increased to over 750,000 eggs the past several years. Over 6 million eggs have been transferred to the industry since 2008.

The availability of an improved line is one of numerous factors that have sparked the current wave of interest in increasing domestic salmon production. Ultimately, this increase will improve our nation’s food security, reduce the enormous seafood deficit, and improve public health by providing high-quality, lower cost protein.

Contact: Dr. William Wolters, (207) 299-5104, william.wolters@ars.usda.gov

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Region: 
Mid-Atlantic