Undergrad’s research focuses on fish-fry staple yellow perch

Emma Kraco was always interested in biological sciences in elementary and high school.

“I loved looking for bugs, looking at tiny things up close. It just made sense to get interested in water, especially fresh water. It’s absolutely teeming with life all the time.”

In her teens, her interests led to a job in aquaculture, and she ended up working in the field for several years. “I’m a nontraditional student because I didn’t come to college right out of high school,” she said. She worked for both Sweet Water Aquaponics in Bay View and Central Greens in Milwaukee Story Hill’s area.

Through that work, she got to know Fred Binkowski and Dong-Fang Deng, senior scientists in UWM’s School of Freshwater Sciences.

Deng especially inspired Kraco. “It’s not often you meet women working in aquaculture, especially aquaculture science,” Kraco said.

Kraco, now a senior, enrolled at UWM in 2018, majoring in biology with a focus on molecular and cellular biology as part of her continuing interest in aquaculture.

She chose UWM specifically because of its Freshwater Sciences program. “I wanted to work in the Great Lakes. I’ve lived in Milwaukee most of my life, and the idea of staying here appealed to me.”

Her research has focused on yellow perch, an aquaculture food fish that is in high demand in the Great Lakes region. Working with her mentor Deng, she has looked at different ways of raising the perch, particularly how water temperature and salt in the water impact affect fish as they grow from the embryo and larval stages. Her work has been supported by a UWM Support for Undergraduate Research Fellows grant.

This is also important for the Great Lakes fisheries right now, Kraco said, because climate change is making the Great Lakes warmer and more saline. Her research with Deng is also expanding into studying the impact of microplastics in the water or feed of the yellow perch. That work is supported by an Undergraduate Water Research Fellowship Program of the UW System.

Such basic research is important to the future of aquaculture, Kraco said.

“You want to raise healthy fish with a high survival rate.”

Her research work has helped in her courses, Kraco added. “I think it absolutely contextualizes everything I’ve learned in the classroom. I’m able to expand on everything that comes up in lectures or even in laboratory classes. It helps to be able to put what I’m learning into practice right away.”

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