The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) collaborated with the NASA Tournament Lab (NTL) to sponsor the Protecting the Natural Flavor of Catfish Challenge. Under some conditions, farmed catfish can develop off-flavors that are unpalatable to consumers due to exposure to certain compounds arising from blue-green algae. This challenge sought to identify new approaches to maintain the flavor of farmed catfish.
The ARS team sponsoring this challenge chose to focus the crowd on two main aspects of the problem: pre-harvest prevention of the off-flavors through pond or fish management, and methods for reducing or eliminating off-flavors that have been detected after catfish have been harvested. The majority of competitive proposals addressed the prevention of off-flavors through pre-harvest management techniques. Some proposals provided more complete solutions that both reduced the occurrence of off-flavors while also reducing off-flavors that might already be present in catfish.
This challenge received 85 submissions from 27 countries and awarded a total prize purse of $60,000 to six different winners. ARS was impressed with the breadth and scope of ideas presented and sees potential for some of them to be used in other off-flavor applications, including recirculating aquaculture systems. Elements in these different solutions were not necessarily all new to ARS, but the way in which they were presented made the ARS team think about them in a new light. In particular, having participants support their approaches with practical ideas for implementation demonstrated their feasibility and practicality in ways that hadn’t been previously considered.