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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER)
Cycle 4 (2015 Deadline)

Sustainable Fisheries for Enhanced Water Resources in Armenia (SFEWRA)

PI: Vardan Urutyan (vardan@icare.am), International Center for Agribusiness Research and Education (ICARE)
U.S. Partner: Stephen Schoenholtz, Virginia Water Resources Research Center
Project Dates: October 2015 - March 2019

4-230 Field Observations 2
4-230 Field Measurements
4-230 Field Observations
The project team made a series of field measurements and observations at the beginning of the project (photos courtesy of Dr. Urutyan).
Project Overview

This project will address the issues of depleting artesian water resources in the Ararat Valley. An increasing numbers of fish farms in the valley have substantially decreased the level of artesian water in the area. Although profitable in current market conditions, these fish farms operate primarily using inefficient water technologies. The first step in the project will be to analyze targeted fish farms in the Ararat Valley to determine the current production models being used and recommend appropriate best practices for water-efficient aquaculture. The researchers will also study the potential for improving discharge water distribution efficiency and discharge water quality for targeted fish farms to agricultural plots in the Ararat Valley. After analyzing the current regulatory framework, the team will then produce recommendations for improved policy for water usage in fish farm production systems and for better management of discharge water. Throughout the process, they will engage key stakeholders to ensure their input is included in the study and to inform them of recommended policies and actions. The U.S. Government-supported partner will contribute by providing expertise about best international practices of operating fish farms and water usage in fish farms.

The key development impacts of the SFEWRA project lie in ensuring more inclusive and sustainable economic growth by fostering sustainable fisheries that use water more efficiently. The project will also build and strengthen the research capacity of ICARE and the various stakeholders involved, establish long-term research relationships, build multidisciplinary team and individual capacity, and enable the collaborators to become more effective partners in research and development related to water. Data-driven decisions, actions, and results are key to providing water for multiple and competing users. The water data collected will be the basis for an Armenian Water Resources Research Center as the collaboration continues beyond the timeline of this project. Research finding and the recommendations will be integrated into the education component of ICARE as short-term training courses or elective courses for undergraduate or graduate level students.

Summary of Recent Activities

By the end of September 2018, after three full years of activity, the PEER SFEWRA team had completed water-efficient fish farming models for 14 specific farms involved in the project. At this point only one more model remains to be completed, bringing to total to 15, and all the documentation will be translated into Armenia for easier used by the farmers. The models include a description of the Recirculating Aquaculture System (RAS) model to be used; nitrogen management in the RAS; calculations of optimal ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite levels in the proposed systems; proposed water supply volume; the number of varieties of fish stocks to be kept; necessary financial investments; and cost-benefit analysis, among other elements. During the spring, team also cooperated with two visiting professors from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (Israel): Dr. Amit Gross, head of the Department of Environmental Hydrology and Microbiology, Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research, Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research; and Dr. Dina Zilberg, head of the Zilberg lab (a fish health laboratory). During their visit to Armenia they agreed to provide voluntary consultancy to project fish farmers. Dr. Gross provided advice on wastewater treatment and fish rearing in recirculating aquaculture systems, while Dr. Zilberg offered guidance to fish farms experiencing issues related to fish health.

In addition, Dr. Gross also worked with the SFEWRA researchers to organize a workshop at the ICARE Foundation on April 12, 2018, entitled “Waste to Resource: Decentralized Treatment of Marginal Waters and Agro Waste for Water, Energy and Food.” Also, on the outreach side, team members made presentations at the 92nd Annual Conference of the Agriculture Economics Society (University of Warwick, UK), the International Conference on Aquaculture (Copenhagen, Denmark), and the annual conference of the Armenian Economic Association (Yerevan).

The SFEWRA project also involves several engagement with local Armenian students. One student project, CarpeJur, that received consultancy from the team during competed for the Wege Prize 2018 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The team presented a closed-loop aquaculture-related circular economy model and was chosen among the finalists, receiving a $1,000 award. Within the scope of the SFEWRA project, the CarpeJur students had the opportunity to go through the prototyping of the system in an actual fish farm and grow algae. In addition, they learned to perform relevant laboratory analyses and water quality testing under the supervision of SFEWRA team members, who also assisted with the entire circular economic model development as well as with economic and environmental calculations.

Under a PEER Evidence to Action supplemental grant awarded in May 2017, these researchers are working to implement their sustainable aquaculture model at one of the fish farms involved in their PEER study. Despite some delays caused by weather and public protests during the winter and spring, the final model has been completed and budget-related calculations were made. Obtaining all the essential supplies for the project was challenging, and some adjustments also needed to be made in the plans to ensure the renovated farm would meet the needs of its owner, but excavation and construction work finally began in the third quarter of 2018. A no-cost extension has been issued through March 2019 to ensure sufficient time for completing all aspects of this multifaceted project, including the renovation work, preparation of manuscripts, and organization of a training event for stakeholders on water efficiency in Ararat Valley groundwater-based aquaculture. The latter event will be conducted in cooperation with another USAID-funded project, Participatory Utilization and Resource Efficiency of Water (PURE Water), which is implemented by the Urban Foundation for Sustainable Development.

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