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NMC CREES Secures $460K Grant (January 8, 2019)

Mike Ogo, NMC CREES’ Aquaculture Program Leader, is leading a grant program that aims to expand research on the commercialization of rabbit fish in the CNMI.
Mike Ogo, NMC CREES’ Aquaculture Program Leader, is leading a grant program that aims to expand research on the commercialization of rabbit fish in the CNMI. (Click photo to enlarge)

Northern Marianas College Cooperative Research, Extension, and Education Service (NMC CREES) was recently awarded a $460,00 grant from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture to continue its research of the commercialization of forktail rabbitfish in the CNMI.

Due to the high demand and the decline of CNMI coastal fisheries landings, NMC CREES conducted a “Listening Session” with aquaculture stakeholders a few years ago to gather data on the reef fish species that the community wants CREES to focus research efforts on.

Of the 22 species vetted in the listening session, the forktail rabbitifish, known as “manahak” in Chamorro, was identified as a priority for development and commercialization.

Several years ago, NMC CREES secured an initial grant for the forktail rabbitfish aquaculture development in the CNMI that provided $570,000 to fund the needed infrastructure to conduct research. The grant paid for a laboratory facility, live-feed production, hatchery, hydroponics, and grow-out tanks.

This new grant provides NMC CREES the necessary funds to move forward with the next phase in the research process which include,(1) quantifying the amount of copepods needed to nourish the rabbitfish while they are larvae, (2) determining methods to commercialize, and (3) assisting in the management of the mass production of rabbitfish based on their extensive research and understanding of the species.

NMC CREES found that copepods have the nutritional value rabbitfish larvae need in order to develop into the next phase of the growth cycle. This new grant is significant because it provides NMC CREES with the resources need to refine initial findings through further experimentation.

Once NMC CREES finalizes the methods for mass growout, local fish farmers can raise their own rabbitfish so the species in the Marianas waters can repopulate.

This research has been led by Mike Ogo, Aquaculture Program Leader for the NMC CREES’s Aquaculture Program. Through its findings, Ogo’s team is now credited with being the first aquaculture program in the region to successfully grow-out this particular rabbitfish species in captivity.

“In the future, we hope to see rabbitfish production on a larger scale and our community enjoying this important cultural food,” said Mike Ogo. “The immediate plan is to re-establish the Center for Aquaculture Development at the Northern Marianas College so that we can proceed with accomplishing the project goals.”

Other successful projects from the NMC CREES Aquaculture Program include commercializing shrimp production, hydroponics, and tilapia. As a result of these previous projects, over one million dollars has been added to the CNMI economy.

“This project seeks to address food and nutrition security, the preservation of native food sources, and sustainable economic development. We wish Mike continued success as he pursues viable solutions to address these issues,” said Patty Coleman, Interim Dean of CREES.

Northern Marianas College Cooperative Research, Extension, and Education Service (NMC-CREES) provides technical assistance in the fields of agriculture, aquaculture, natural resources, community and youth development, health, and nutrition that is locally sustainable, environmentally safe, and economically feasible, in order to enhance the well-being and improve the quality of life of the people living in the CNMI./

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