Interview with Juli-Anne Russo

Dr. Juli-Anne Russo is a Jamaican aquaculture scientist specialising in aquaculture biosecurity, nutrition, and feed management. She is the founder and CEO of the Caribbean Aquaculture Education and Innovation Hub which is the umbrella for Women in Caribbean Aquaculture, the Caribbean Aquaculture Network and Youth in Caribbean Aquaculture.

What inspired you to become involved in aquaculture? 

It began with a life-changing experience as a nineteen-year-old in the summer of my third year as an undergraduate at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica. I assisted my professor's research project to culture the local seaweed at the Discovery Bay Marine Lab. I collected growth data and maintained the Gracilaria species along the Discovery Bay coast. This work left an indelible impression, as I loved every moment of it.  However, at that time, I did not think seaweed cultivation was considered aquaculture since mariculture as a subject was not taught.  It would be several years later that I would become more involved (again by accident) in aquaculture.  

I went overseas to school in Florida to study for my master's degree in animal science. When I returned to Jamaica there were no jobs in my field so when the first marine shrimp hatchery opened, because of my love of working near the ocean, I applied for a technician’s position and was thrilled when I got it. My love for aquaculture started with this job. It was further solidified when I began to work with ornamental aquarium fish species. I was inspired to continue in the field as I learned that aquaculture encompasses many facets of the sciences (marine zoology, nutrition, chemistry, veterinary), which made it a very versatile field and allowed me room to grow as a scientist. There is also a certain art and beauty to culturing aquatic species. I enjoy working outdoors and find it very peaceful and fulfilling to spend a day working with fish, especially near the ocean. 

Briefly describe your aquaculture career 

After completing my master's in animal nutrition at the University of Florida (UF), I returned to Jamaica, where my career began, as an algae and feed technician at the first and only marine shrimp hatchery in the Caribbean. After a couple of years, I became the manager of an ornamental fish farm in Jamaica. I oversaw more than 20 exotic species being bred in outdoor ponds and indoor hatcheries, which were then exported to the USA, Canada and England. I returned to UF and received a fellowship to pursue my PhD where I specialised in fish health and nutrition. During graduate school I worked extensively with ornamental and freshwater food fish farmers in Florida, helping them enhance their production levels. My postdoctoral years were spent at Hubbs-Seaworld Research Institute in San Diego where I had the privilege of working at the only research site for marine fish in the US. There, I learned more about sustainability, as I researched to enhance the nutritional value of the broodstock of species that were being cultured to restock overfished waters off the coast of California and northern Mexico. 

I spent five years as a formulator in the R&D sector, developing innovative feeds for exotic ornamental freshwater and marine fish. As a senior scientist in charge of all the formulas, I worked with a business team to take over 300 nutritional products to the commercial market and assisted aquariums with nutrition and feed consultations. After leaving the manufacturing industry, I wanted to use my aquaculture skills to help others. Now, as a consultant, I enjoy volunteering or working with NGOs in developing nations, transferring my experiences and education to enhance farmers’ production levels. 

During your career, have you noticed inequalities in the sector, be it in policies or culture? If yes, what actions do you think would best address those issues? 

Navigating a career in the USA as a Black woman can indeed present unique challenges due to systemic inequalities and biases that exist in professional environments. This was further compounded by being a foreigner.  I have often been subjected to implicit bias and stereotypes which include negative assumptions about abilities and demeanour. This can manifest in being overlooked for promotions or important projects. Black women may face higher expectations or stricter scrutiny compared to their peers. Balancing career demands with other responsibilities can be particularly challenging for Black women who often have caregiving responsibilities. 

Both in Jamaica and the USA, in the aquaculture sector, women are underrepresented in leadership positions and decision-making roles and have fewer opportunities for mentorship, sponsorship, or access to professional networks such as industry events or conferences.  Navigating these challenges requires resilience, self-advocacy, and strategic networking.  

What is your proudest aquaculture-related achievement to date? 

During the pandemic, I founded the Caribbean Aquaculture Network. This blossomed in the last three years to Women in Caribbean Aquaculture (WiCA) and more recently, Youth for Caribbean Aquaculture. These groups have been combined to form the Non-Profit Caribbean Aquaculture Education and Innovation Hub (CAEIH) which was formed in 2023. I am very pleased with the passion shown by the team of women that have joined me to help get these organizations started. I am especially proud that since we come from several islands in the Caribbean, we represent the Caribbean region working together for a greater good for the region. Due to the experiences that I had in the USA of non-representation and lack of mentors of colour, I wanted to start an organization that could culturally support and mentor Caribbean students and women in aquaculture. 

What advice would you give to someone (man or woman) looking to start a career in the aquaculture sector, or progress their existing career? 

There is a need for more entrepreneurship, research, and innovation in the aquaculture sector in the Caribbean and the opportunities for these areas are vast.  However, the job market may not be a conventional one.  As a result, anyone starting in this sector must have a clear understanding of the goals that they would like to achieve. They must do the research and network to find out where they would like to focus their career.  

What do you think will be the key drivers/areas for innovation for Caribbean aquaculture in the next decade? 

I believe that incorporating aquaculture, mariculture, and aquaponics into the education system can empower the next generation of Caribbean innovators and entrepreneurs to lead the sustainable development of aquaculture in the region, fostering economic growth while preserving marine ecosystems 

At the moment there are no institutions in Jamaica or the Caribbean that are training young scientists which are needed for the development of the sector. We need more research and entrepreneurs to produce innovations and advancements, especially for a rapidly changing climate and the decimation of marine species. Aquaculture also involves interdisciplinary learning and aquaculture education involves a range of disciplines, including biology, engineering, environmental science, veterinary sciences, business management, and marketing. Integrating these subjects into the curriculum prepares students for diverse career paths within the aquaculture sector. 

Given the geographical and ecological characteristics of the Caribbean region, aquaculture, particularly mariculture (the farming of marine organisms) and aquaponics (a symbiotic system of aquaculture and hydroponics), can provide sustainable solutions to food security and economic development. 

The Caribbean faces environmental challenges such as overfishing, coral reef degradation, and climate change impacts. Mariculture and aquaponics offer alternatives to traditional fishing practices, contributing to marine conservation efforts and reducing pressure on wild fish stocks. 

The integration of aquaculture into education can foster innovation by exposing students to advanced techniques and technologies in sustainable aquaculture. This includes developing new species for mariculture, improving aquaponic systems, and implementing smart aquaculture practices. 

Developing expertise in mariculture and aquaponics can create new economic opportunities, such as small-scale farming ventures and specialized aquaculture businesses. Educating students about these sectors can stimulate entrepreneurship and job creation. 

To implement this vision, CAEIH wishes to collaborate with educational institutions, government agencies, industry stakeholders, and international partners. This collaboration can support curriculum development, establish research partnerships, and provide hands-on training opportunities for students interested in pursuing careers in aquaculture. 


After graduating from the University of the West Indies Mona Campus, in Kingston, Jamaica with a BS in Chemistry and a minor in Zoology, Juli-Anne was awarded a USAID scholarship to pursue her Master of Science in AnimalNutrition at the University of Florida. From the University of Florida, she was awarded a
Graduate Fellowship to pursue her Ph.D. in Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences.

In 2023, Dr.Russo accepted a Fulbright Specialist Program Fellowship from the United States of America, State Department to teach and mentor research scientists and students in aquafeed production at the Island School in Eleuthera, The Bahamas.

Dr. Russo is an advocate for the growth of aquaculture and more specifically, mariculture in the Caribbean and is an Edinburgh Ocean Leader nominee. Her interest in the growth of seaweed farming grew after conducting assessments in Jamaica, Saint Lucia, and Belize in the fall of 2023. She has been a consultant for several NGOs such as FAO, EcoLtd, IDB, USAID and Compete Caribbean.

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