Virginia Tech researcher Jonathan van Senten was recently awarded the Distinguished Early Career Award from the U.S. Aquaculture Society.

The prestigious award is given to up to three practitioners and only in years where eligible recipients are identified. It recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to advance U.S. aquaculture through outstanding leadership or innovation in research, education, or industry development.

“The society brings together aquaculture researchers, students, and industry practitioners, and I feel like my stakeholders played a role in me getting this award, so to know that I’m actually meeting their needs and serving them well is great confirmation that my efforts are focused on the right thing,” said van Senten. “It’s an honor to be recognized by people who are my peers and also my seniors. It shows that the work that I do has a meaningful impact on the industry.”

Van Senten graduated with his Ph.D. from the University of Arkansas in 2016 and has since moved from a post-doctoral researcher position to a research scientist and most recently to assistant professor at the Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research and Extension Center with a faculty appointment in the Virginia Tech Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, both in the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Van Senten’s nominators emphasized how his work is highly regarded among researchers and aquaculture producers alike and how it is being used to elicit policy change as well as provide helpful information for the public and aquaculture producers.

His most prominent work centers on quantifying regulatory costs to producers, which had previously never been studied. Through a series of surveys and data analysis, van Senten found that producers were spending a large percentage of their total operating expenses on regulatory compliance measures that increased their production costs, reduced farm efficiency, and prevented further expansion of the industry to meet growing market demand.

“Providing sound economics research and Extension information on the most critical problems of U.S. aquaculture, such as regulatory reform, is essential for U.S. aquaculture to continue to develop and grow,” said Carol Engle of Engle-Stone Aquatic$, one of van Senten’s nominators.

Since 2016, van Senten has published four peer-reviewed publications (with six others in the process) and 50 Extension publications. His findings have been used in state legislative hearings and other meetings with regulatory agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, to argue for streamlining regulations that would reduce the burden on aquaculture producers and help expand the U.S. supply of fish and other seafood.

In addition to his research outcomes, van Senten’s nominators also noted his character, commenting that gathering first-hand data from producers requires trust-building and thus personal integrity and professional credibility.

Van Senten completed his bachelor’s degree in marine biology from Barry University and his master’s in marine affairs and policy from the University of Miami. He received the International Association of Aquaculture Economics and Marketing Ph.D. Best Dissertation Award in 2017 for his dissertation “The costs and impacts of the regulatory environment on U.S. producers of baitfish and sportfish.”

Written by Jillian Broadwell