Construction on the new Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Hampton, Virginia, is on schedule and is expected to be completed in late 2021.

The Virginia Seafood AREC is at the heart of an industry that has an annual economic impact of more than $550 million, accounts for more than 5,600 jobs, and increases the state’s economic portfolio.

“We view ourselves as partners with the seafood industry, and we constantly work together to find ways to help it succeed and remain sustainable,” said Michael Schwarz, director of the Virginia Seafood AREC. “This new building and its significantly enhanced capacity will allow us to continue to do so in ways that will benefit our commonwealth and our partners for decades to come.”

The new 21,700-square-foot facility, located on the water’s edge, will have expanded seafood technologies/processing and microbiological laboratories, upgraded aquaculture, fisheries research facilities, water chemistry labs, expanded classrooms, outreach/demonstration and training facilities, and additional workstations and accommodations for visiting faculty, students, and industry collaborators.

The center supports many ongoing programs, including sustainable food system production systems; economics, marketing, and regulations programming; food quality safety and consumer education programs; sustainable fisheries and aquaculture; and seafood processing, validation, and engineering.

Details about the progress and future were presented to the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors on March 21. The new building will significantly enhance the capacity of the Virginia Seafood AREC.

In 2017, a five-year goal of $1 million a year was launched, which is on track to be achieved. Additionally, there are 28 concurrent grants totaling $4.35 million and $18.5 million in grant proposals currently in development.

A rendering of the new classrooms and other facilities inside the new Virginia Seafood AREC facility

A rendering of the new classrooms and other facilities inside the new Virginia Seafood AREC facility
A rendering of the new classrooms and other facilities inside the new Virginia Seafood AREC facility

The construction of the new AREC will also allow for additional personnel. In 2019, 11 faculty and staff worked at the VSAREC. In 2020, seven new positions were added, including a research specialist, a research scientist, three research associates, and two graduate students. In 2021, one research scientist, one research associate, and one communications associate will be created. Additionally, one tenure-track faculty research and Extension position focusing on seafood traceability and blockchain technologies has been approved for hire, under the CALS SmartFarm Innovation Network Faculty Cluster.

The new program investments also support the recently formed Center for Advanced Innovations in Agriculture and the SmartFarm Innovation Network, with a further focus on controlled environmental agriculture, new seafood frontiers, smartfeeds, robotics, traceability, blockchain, and big data management.

The Seafood AREC has a wide array of business, public, and private partnerships, many of which will be enhanced by the new infrastructure. The AREC is also an approved USDA Hazzard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) Training Center. In 2019, 48 companies with 233 clients were trained, resulting in 107 seafood HACCP certificates being issued. The AREC also provides general industry training.

“A modern, technologically advanced Virginia Seafood AREC is vital to keeping our industry viable and competitive for years to come. We rely on the AREC’s team of experts to help us be national and global leaders in sustainable seafood production,” said Johnny Graham, the president and owner of Graham and Rollins Seafood Inc., Hampton, Virginia, which has been in his family for four generations.  

From deep-water fishermen and Chesapeake Bay crabbers to seafood distributors and the booming aquaculture industry, the impact and extent of the commonwealth’s seafood industry is vast. The AREC is a vital source of information that helps the industry thrive in an increasingly competitive global market. The AREC’s mission is to conduct applied research, produce crucial information, develop modern technologies and new techniques in support of the seafood industry, and share that knowledge with stakeholders who rely upon it for their success.