MSU students support fish health, farmers in Republic of Georgia

A group picture of the MSU team exploring the Georgia countryside
The MSU-led team working to improve trout health in the Republic of Georgia included, from left, MSU College of Forest Resources doctoral student Vandana Dharan, College of Veterinary Medicine faculty member Dr. Stephen Reichley, Batumi Shota Rustaveli State University Extension Center Director Dr. Giorgi Makhradaze, the University of Idaho’s Dr. Jake Bledsoe, and CVM students Kate Rapp and Divya Rose. (Photo provided by Farmer of Future)

Contact: Alaina Dismukes

Researchers and farmers observe trout
Researchers and farmers evaluate trout swimming in a raceway to assess the animals’ behavior and health. (Photo provided by Farmer of Future)

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Mississippi State classrooms extend far beyond the university’s sprawling, scenic campus. As MSU fosters the concept of learning without boundaries, students are not limited geographically and can choose to study through many programs leveraging national or international partnerships.

One such program involves MSU’s Global Center for Aquatic Health and Food Security, known as GCAHFS, working to improve fish health in the Republic of Georgia. The project—among several GCAHFS has had supporting research in Africa, Asia, Europe and North America—recently gave one veterinary student and two graduate students a chance to journey across the ocean and dive into work supporting small- and medium-sized aquaculture trout facilities in Adjara, with a focus on veterinary health. GCAHFS is affiliated with the university’s College of Veterinary Medicine, or CVM.

Stephen Reichley, associate director of GCAHFS and CVM faculty member, leads this project, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Services, or USDA FAS. Along with Reichley, students Kathryn Rapp, Vandana Dharan and Divya Rose traveled to the developing country of Georgia this past fall.

“The hope for the ‘Bolstering Fish Health in the Republic of Georgia’ research project is to increase rural income in the Adjara region through supporting trout farms by improving veterinary health,” said Rapp, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine student who expects to complete her degree in 2025. “The risk of trout farming as a source of income in this area is currently quite high due to disease outbreaks that can cause major losses.”

“The trip was one I am incredibly grateful for,” she said. “This was my first time in the Republic of Georgia, and I was mesmerized by the landscape and hospitality of all the Georgians. This trip also improved my public speaking skills and ability to communicate effectively with those who speak a different language.”

During multiple trout farm visits, the U.S. team took water samples for analysis.

“Water quality parameters are critical in aquaculture because they directly impact the health and well-being of fish and other aquatic animals,” said Dharan, a Ph.D. student in forest resources and wildlife, fisheries and aquaculture within MSU’s College of Forest Resources. “By regularly assessing these parameters, farmers can identify and address issues promptly, ensuring a healthy and sustainable environment for fish, promoting growth, and minimizing the risk of diseases.

“Additionally, we interacted with the farmers regarding the challenges they face in the aquaculture sector, and we collected swab samples from the fish, water pipes and walls of the fish-rearing units for the surveillance of potential pathogens in the farms,” she said.

Dharan, who has 12 years of experience working with fish, described the opportunity as invaluable.

“It marked my initial exposure to cold water fisheries, particularly focused on trout,” she said. “I believe Georgia has immense potential for cold-water fish farming, but there seems to be a lack of knowledge and guidance. Our expertise can serve as valuable support, and collaboration with our field experts could greatly benefit them.”

Reichley and Jake Bledsoe from the University of Idaho conducted training sessions for farmers on identifying ectoparasites on the skin and gills of the fish. Each farmer was interviewed, covering topics such as farm water sources, management practices, hatchery practices, and other concerns.

“We visited around 12 trout farms, collecting samples,” said Rose, a CVM second-year Ph.D. student in veterinary biomedical science with a concentration in infectious disease. “In addition, we supplied microscopes, gloves, swabs, conical tubes and more to selected farms and the local university as resources, while also providing training for their farm operations.

“Having spent the last five years in the catfish aquaculture industry in the Southeastern United States, this was my first exposure to the trout industry. It provided valuable insights into the challenges they face and the strategies they employ. As a student specializing in fish health and aspiring to contribute to the field, this trip offered a glimpse into an entirely different aquaculture industry,” Rose said.

Reichley, a previous director of research and development and fish health for the largest trout producer in the U.S., said MSU’s work with the University of Idaho is helping Georgia farmers better understand best management practices for trout aquaculture.

“This allows for the sustainable growth of trout farms in the country. In addition, we are building capacity in the regional and national government as well as in the private sector,” he said, adding, “It is always enjoyable to engage students in my international research and development work.”

To learn more about GCAHFS, visit More information on the Bolstering Fish Health in the Republic of Georgia project can be found at