Dr. Steven Hughes, an active researcher in fish farming for over 40 years, says one of the reasons most African Americans don’t see a career in aquaculture is they have never heard of it.
He is hoping to change that, and Cheyney University is on the frontlines of this research and exploring ways of introducing fish farming into urban environments.
“There are tremendous opportunities in this field, but it’s not widely publicized,” said Dr. Hughes, Director of Cheyney’s Aquaculture Research and Education Laboratory. “In southern states, there are many people working in the industry but not many who own the businesses. For those who do get into the industry, they’re not properly prepared for the business aspects. One of my objectives is to see that interested people are prepared.”
Aquaculture or fish farming is the cultivation of fish, shellfish, aquatic plants, mollusks, and other edible marine life. Cheyney University has created an academic/professional specialization in the culture of growing aquatic animals and plants in controlled environments.
Dr. Hughes has been overseeing the laboratory since 2004 and preparing students for emerging career opportunities, while meeting the educational extension and research needs for the region and its critical waterways. He is responsible for the planning, initiation, and execution of experiments to address research needs in the areas of urban aquaculture, fish nutrition, aquarium fish culture, impact of water quality on fish growth and physiology, and in the control of feeding behavior.
He has helped to develop an aquaponics research and production program on the campus which seeks to promote research on plant growth and the expansion of aquaculture in urban areas throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.
“Many aquaculture businesses are located in rural areas, and our goal is to bring this opportunity to urban settings,” said Dr. Hughes. “It’s furthering the concept of urban farming but on a different level. We want students to realize this is something they can do, and it can lead to great career opportunities.
“It’s not just a hobby but a science industry that’s portable all over the world. It’s a way to feed hungry people and change impoverished nations.”
Recently, Dr. Hughes was elected to serve on the Board of the United States Aquaculture Society. He has also received an acknowledgment from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture for his services in Small Business Innovation program review. Hughes attained his Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology from the University of Notre Dame and earned both his Master of Science and Doctor of Philosophy degrees at Cornell University with combined emphases in nutrition, physiology, and aquaculture.
“The Aquaculture Society’s leadership has been aware of my work over the years and I’m very proud to be on the board,” he said. “I was already working with the institute in their grants program, and they appreciated the efforts I was making moving small aquaculture businesses. Their acknowledgment means a lot to me.”
Alieya Crawford, a sophomore who is majoring in aquaculture, said Dr. Hughes’ enthusiasm for the science-inspired her to pursue it. She knew she wanted to earn a degree in biology when she first came to Cheyney and realized after her first year that her passion became aquaculture.
“Dr. Hughes’ genuine interest in the subject nurtured my own,” said Crawford. “I eventually found myself with a clear idea of what I want out of the program and a possible future in aquaculture. Dr. Hughes is a treasure trove of knowledge and can answer any question about this field and the career opportunities it can create.”
As the world’s population grows, continuing to provide affordable, nutritious food becomes a major concern — and a major opportunity for meaningful careers. At Cheyney, students can get hands-on experience building and maintaining aquaculture and aquaponics systems. They also can actively participate in the development of research and education programs in urban aquaculture and fish nutrition/physiology, while furthering their education in the core foundation of the program which includes various aspects of aquatic animal biology, as well as marine and freshwater biology and ecology.
According to Dr. Hughes, fish farming is not a new concept. In fact, people have been doing it for at least 3,000 years!
“You see evidence of it in the Egyptian hieroglyphics and in ancient China. Now the world is rediscovering it in a major way,” he said.