CELS Undergrad Works to Advance Aquaculture Industry

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Tyler Contento, Aquaculture & Fisheries Technology, ’17

Growing up near New Jersey’s Ceva Lake, Tyler Contento nurtured a love of fishing and everything aquatic. His passion for sustainable fish farming led him to pursue a B.S. in Aquaculture & Fisheries Technology within the Fisheries, Animal and Veterinary Sciences (FAVS) department at the University of Rhode Island’s College of the Environment and Life Sciences (CELS), one of the only institutions in the region to offer a degree exclusively in aquaculture.

Now a senior, Contento has had a unique opportunity to participate in groundbreaking aquaculture research with Dr. Terry Bradley, Professor of Fisheries and Aquaculture Science at CELS and Peter Mottur, CELS alum and founder of Greenfins. The public-private partnership between URI and Greenfins is working to launch the first-ever commercial-scale sustainable aquaculture of yellow-fin tuna in the country through the Tuna Research Center of Excellence on URI’s Bay Campus.

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Contento (left) working with Marbled Grouper fish in Australia.

“Tyler’s experience and strong work ethic have been a great asset to the team…he has consistently faced challenges head on with a positive attitude, creativity and a passion to succeed,” says Mottur of Tyler’s work with Greenfins, which includes daily care and feeding of the fish, supplementing vitamins, as well as plumbing and maintaining water quality in the system.

Contento recounts one particular challenge early on in his experience with the tuna project. “One weekend in September I went into work and the visibility in the tank had been reduced to less than a foot.  It turns out there was a massive brown algae bloom in Narragansett Bay, which made its way into our tank overnight.” Six days of changing filters and 9,000 gallons of water later, Contento and his team managed to remove the algae particles and improve visibility in the tank.

As the new facility nears completion, Contento and the Greenfins team plan to bring more juvenile tuna from the wild back to the new 150,000-gallon tank where the tuna will eventually spawn. After graduation Contento hopes to continue research with the tuna project, exploring the best ways to grow yellow-fin tuna from larvae.

Contento’s passion for advancing sustainable fish farming goes beyond the classroom and laboratory at URI. Last spring, he studied abroad in Australia where he took graduate-level aquaculture courses amongst students from around the world.

“There were students from Indonesia, Vietnam, Germany…we all came together for the same purpose: to fight for a new sustainable industry,” Contento reflects on his international experience.

Back at URI he continues to advance aquaculture within the FAVS department. Contento was invited by his professors to serve on a student panel interviewing new faculty hires based on their ability to teach a lecture to the undergraduate students. Over the course of their academic studies, Contento and his peers advocated tirelessly for new classes to be added to the aquaculture curriculum and recruited new students into the fisheries major. “I’m excited to see the future of URI’s aquaculture program. It’s one of the best in the country,” says Contento.

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Contento standing inside the new 150,000-gallon tuna tank under construction at URI’s Bay Campus

As he moves closer to graduation, Contento reflects fondly on the hands-on experience he received at CELS, as well as the faculty who helped him succeed. “I can’t imagine going to a school where the professors are more invested in the students,” he asserts. Contento hopes to work with the tuna project for a couple of years, while also keeping graduate school and the Peace Corps on his radar.

Whatever career path he chooses, Contento is certain of one thing, aquaculture is the way of the future.