NASA Tournament Lab


Protecting the Natural Flavor of Catfish

Blue-green algae can cause off-flavors in farmed catfish, leading to costly harvesting delays. How can USDA-ARS eliminate these off-flavors?

Challenge Overview


The United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) seeks to identify methods or technologies capable of reducing or eliminating instances of off-flavor in farmed catfish raised in ponds. The Protecting the Natural Flavor of Catfish Challenge will award a total prize purse of $60,000 for the most compelling approaches for preventing or eliminating these off-flavors which cost farmers millions of dollars each year. 


The Problem

Exposure to certain varieties of blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria, can cause undesirable changes to the flavor of farmed catfish. This off-flavor delays the harvest for roughly 50% of catfish ponds each year in the United States. Annually, this delay alone can cost catfish farmers millions of dollars in lost revenue and expenses to maintain the fish until flavor quality returns.

USDA-ARS scientists, as well as industry experts, have worked for decades to find new solutions for this problem. While methods to combat off-flavor in catfish have been identified, they are only partial solutions, requiring repeated treatments to reduce off-flavor occurrence, and providing no guarantee of successfully eliminating off flavors. Frequently, preventative treatments are not applied; when off-flavor is detected, harvesting of the pond is delayed as the farmer begins the treatment process and waits for flavor quality to be restored.


The Challenge Breakthrough

The USDA-ARS seeks to identify methods or technologies capable of reducing or eliminating instances of off-flavor in farmed catfish raised in ponds. Innovations that address pre-harvest management techniques or pre-/post-harvest treatments are of interest. Proposed approach must reduce off-flavors in catfish to a level that is undetectable to professional flavor testors.


What You Can Do To Cause A Breakthrough

  • Click ACCEPT CHALLENGE above to sign up for the challenge
  • Read the Challenge Guidelines to learn about the requirements and rules
  • Share this challenge on social media using the icons above. Show your friends, your family, or anyone you know who has a passion for discovery.
  • Start a conversation in our Forum to join the conversation, ask questions or connect with other innovators.
Updates 4

Challenge Updates

Teamwork Makes the Dreamwork

Sept. 17, 2020, 9 a.m. PDT by Natalie York

Have you thought about a forming a team to compete in the Protecting the Natural Flavor of Catfish Challenge?

Teams can be formed directly on the challenge page by connecting in the forum.

Some of the advantages of forming a team include:

1. Accountability

Those deadlines are less likely to get away from you when you’re working with a group.

2. Shared workload

You know the old “divide and conquer?”  It works well for challenges! By finding a solid collaborative stride, a group of just three people can churn out a lot more than one person working alone.

3. Camaraderie

It might be hard for other people to relate to your lone wolf journey toward incentive competition conquest, but your team will be right there with you! A source of inspiration, motivation, and perhaps even fire-under-your-butt lighting, teammates can provide a huge emotional advantage. Just think - new internet friends!

4. Specialization

Maybe you’re a real visionary with an incredible concept, but are stuck on how the “nuts and bolts” fit together? Yeah, YOU need a team. Teammates who have the skills and special working knowledge can be a huge resource. And the benefits go both ways!

Rome wasn’t built in a day. Your team will take some time to come together, so be sure to get ahead of it and start recruiting, reaching out, and networking about the challenge now. The forum is a great place to start. Also, feel free to browse the entire HeroX Community by specialization by checking out 

All About the Forum

Sept. 3, 2020, 9 a.m. PDT by Natalie York

Maybe you've had some questions, thoughts, or ideas about the challenge so far -- but you're still wondering where to take them? In fact, there's a quick, easy-to-use way to ask questions and start conversations about the Protecting the Natural Flavor of Catfish Challenge: the challenge forum.  

Interested? Simply go to the forum to see what people are already saying. If you'd like to start a new conversation, click "New topic" (pictured below) and begin crafting your message. 

This is a great way to start connecting with other community members around different aspects of the challenge, gain insights, and even collaborate! Keep in mind that HeroX regularly checks in on the forum, so it's also a great way to get in touch with us about any questions (or suggestions) you might have. 

Hope you found this helpful! 

Best of luck, and have a great weekend.

A Resource to Get You Started

Aug. 26, 2020, 2:27 p.m. PDT by Natalie York

We're happy to share a very helpful resource that USDA has provided us with: 

Off-flavors in pond-grown ictalurid catfish: Causes and management options, researched and written by Craig S. Tucker and Kevin K. Schrader.

This article will provide you with a comprehensive understanding of how off-flavors occur and current tools available to manage off-flavors.

To download this article, head over to the resources tab:

While your there, feel free to add additional resources that you have utilized to share with other innovators.

Welcome to the Community

Aug. 24, 2020, 6 a.m. PDT by Natalie York

Welcome to the Preserving the Natural Flavor in Catfish Challenge. We're happy to have you following along and participating!

To get started, head back to the challenge page and click ACCEPT CHALLENGE. Once you accept the legal agreement, you will officially be signed up as a competitor!

Remember, if you're feeling stuck, the forum is a great resource to collaborate with others and get answers to your specific questions.

Good luck!

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