James Hill, Class of 2011 and Graduate Student

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James Hill

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

By collaborating with mentors at the UNCW Aquaculture Program, James Hill ’11 developed an award-winning research project that may one day lead to more fish in the sea.

“My research looked at different protein ingredients we could use to feed red porgy as alternatives to fish meal, which is expensive and unsustainable right now, but is the main ingredient found in most fish diets,” Hill said.

Traditional feeds typically used at aquaculture farms contain significant amounts of fish meal because many of the fish raised for commercial usage are carnivores, according to program coordinator Wade Watanabe, a research professor at UNCW.

Hill, who is pursuing a master’s degree in marine science, formulated another diet that replaces the fish meal protein with a mixture made from poultry products, corn gluten and soybean protein. The results look promising. Fish fed the cheaper, mixed protein-based diet grew as well as fish fed a traditional diet. 

Hill discovered his interest in aquaculture as a junior at UNCW. He enrolled in a class led by associate professor Ami Wilbur, director of the university’s shellfish hatchery.

“I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with a marine biology major until that class, but I found it,” he remembered.

In fact, Hill was hooked. From there, he took another aquaculture class with Watanabe and signed up for a directed independent study (DIS) at the hatchery, where he learned the ropes about working in a research facility from Wilbur.

He later volunteered at the university’s aquaculture site on Wrightsville Beach, which naturally led Hill to pursue a master’s degree in marine science. He hopes his research project helps him land a good job in the field after graduation in May.

The red porgy project has already netted Hill a $1,775 stipend as part of the Tyson Best Student Abstract award from the Aquaculture America Conference, held Feb. 19-22 in New Orleans. In the meantime, he’s pleased to see that his project has inspired another graduate student to test alternative protein diets with black sea bass and flounder.

“It's nice to know that all the time and effort I am putting into this project will really mean something to other people once it is done,” he said. 

Originally published on UNCW's Give More in 24 site.

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