New director named for UF Tropical Aquaculture Lab, envisions expansion of researchers and outreach

Aquarium hobbyists rely on the science and outreach conducted by researchers at the University of Florida’s Tropical Aquaculture Lab to supply their favorite species.

Those tropical fish come from fish farmers. Now, the tropical fish industry and its clients will lean on a new director to lead the Ruskin facility.

A research pond at the UF/IFAS Tropical Aquaculture Lab in Ruskin, Florida. UF/IFAS photography.

Matt DiMaggio, an associate professor of fisheries and aquatic sciences in the UF/IFAS School of Forest, Fisheries, and Geomatics Sciences takes over on April 1 for Craig Watson, who is retiring after more than 25 years leading the lab.

Scott Angle, senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources and leader of UF/IFAS, made the announcement.

“DiMaggio’s vision is for TAL to be recognized as the nation’s top academic aquaculture laboratory. He plans to grow TAL— more facilities, more scientists and more aquaculture commodities,” said Angle. “There’s a strong legacy to build on. Watson is an icon. At TAL, DiMaggio has developed into a first-rate scientist with a deep understanding of industry needs and agency partnerships.”

DiMaggio will lead a talented group of four other faculty and a productive team of support staff and graduate students.

“We need to continue to do the things that have made the lab so successful,” said DiMaggio, a faculty member at TAL since 2014 and Florida Sea Grant affiliate researcher. “That means continuing to have that close relationship with the aquaculture industry. Our focus has always been the ornamental fish farmers and we will maintain that focus, but we will also be looking for opportunities to expand the lab and find ways to contribute to other industries – including shellfish, food fish and baitfish. We are committed to helping the Florida aquaculture industry grow and thrive in the years to come.”

DiMaggio will continue to focus on ornamental fish production. That includes things like improving nutrition and optimizing the culture environment. It also includes figuring out how to grow fish here that are new to the industry or may be currently cultivated in other countries.

Also on the faculty are a fish veterinarian, a nonnative species ecologist, a restoration aquaculturist and an Extension scientist.

To meet industry demands and expand into different markets, TAL will need to add space and faculty. New scientists might include a fish nutritionist, a molecular geneticist, an aquaculture engineer and an aquatic ecologist.

Watson has been the director at TAL since its inception – an era that goes back more than a quarter-century.

For eight years prior to TAL’s opening, Watson worked as a UF/IFAS multi-county tropical aquaculture Extension agent based out of Hillsborough County. He was doing his best to teach fish farmers everything he knew. But Watson and other Extension faculty needed more data to share.

In 1996, using a National Weather Service surplus building in Ruskin, an adjacent fish farm and seed funding, UF/IFAS built what is now TAL.

Asked why he wanted the top job, DiMaggio credited his predecessor and the current faculty, staff, students and stakeholders.

“That goes back to Craig’s ability to cultivate the trust, respect and working relationship with the farmers,” DiMaggio said. “He also succeeded in identifying exceptional faculty, staff and students and brought them to the lab. Craig’s motto was always, ‘Solve problems and create opportunities.’”

DiMaggio’s plan is to continue this successful approach.


The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS brings science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents.  @UF_IFAS



Avatar photo
Posted: March 14, 2023

Category: UF/IFAS
Tags: Craig Watson, Fish Farmers, Fish Veterinarian, Florida Sea Grant, Matt DiMaggio, Nonnative Species Ecologist, Ornamental Fish, School Of Forest Fisheries And Geomatics Sciences, Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory

Subscribe For More Great Content

IFAS Blogs Categories