HeroX, a social network for innovation and platform for crowdsourced solutions, launched its "Protecting the Natural Flavor of Catfish" crowdsourcing competition Aug. 20 that calls on the global "solvers" community to offer cost-effective and innovative methods to prevent blue-green pond algae from delaying catfish harvesting.
The competition was launched on behalf of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and seeks to benefit catfish farmers across the nation, HeroX said.
For the last 30 years, ARS research has shown that catfish exposure to certain varieties of blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria, can cause a delay in harvest for roughly 50% of catfish ponds each year, the announcement said. Annually, this delay can also cost catfish farmers $15-20 million in lost revenue and expenses to maintain the fish and its natural flavor.
While numerous methods to combat this issue have been identified, they are only partial solutions that require repeated treatments, HeroX said. There is also no guarantee of successfully eliminating the blue-green algae's effect on the fish.
"The Agricultural Research Service is committed to finding solutions to agricultural problems that affect Americans every day," ARS administrator Dr. Chavonda Jacobs-Young said. "We are excited to see the innovative strategies and suggested new technologies for the Catfish Challenge from the global community."
"I look forward to seeing our innovators solve a challenge that has stumped scientists and experts for years," HeroX chief executive officer Christian Cotichini said. "Identifying a solution here protects our food supply and the livelihoods of these catfish farmers."
The challenge: In the U.S., nearly 400 million lb. of farm-raised channel and blue catfish are harvested annually, primarily in the Mississippi Delta region. Unfortunately, exposure to compounds from varieties of blue-green algae can cause an "earthy" or "muddy" taste in catfish, HeroX explained.
If a sample fish is found to have these off-flavors, catfish farmers may wait to harvest and retest the fish after several months to see if the off-flavors have improved or treat the pond water to remove the algae before harvesting can proceed.
Both approaches result in lengthy harvest delays -- anywhere from a few weeks to several months -- and cost the industry roughly $20 million annually, the announcement said.
The prize: A grand total of up to $60,000 will be awarded to the challenge's top nine respondents. Judges will evaluate submissions for the best overall approach submitted and award prizes to the top nine responses. One first-place and up to two second-place winners will be recognized in each of the following three categories:
- Pre-harvest management practices;
- Pre-harvest treatment technologies, and
- Post-harvest treatment technologies.
How to participate: The prize is open to anyone 18 or older participating as an individual or as a team. Individual competitors and teams may originate from any country, as long as U.S. federal sanctions do not prohibit participation (some restrictions apply), HeroX said.
To accept the challenge, visit herox.com/catfish.