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The Future of Ocean Farming


For all his life, Alaskan fisherman Dune Lankard has seemed to the ocean—for meals, work and objective. “I started fishing when I was five,” says Lankard, a member of the Athabaskan Eyak group, an Indigenous group from the Copper River Delta. “I really don’t have any skills beyond the ocean.”

Born in 1959, the identical 12 months Alaska turned a state, Lankard has witnessed varied pure and man-made disasters—together with the commoditization of Indigenous peoples’ conventional fishing manner of life—which have disrupted his trade and homeland. “As an Indigenous fisherman, I’ve seen it all,” he says.

In 1964, an enormous magnitude 9.2 earthquake, fittingly referred to as the Nice Alaska Earthquake of 1964, triggered a swell of tsunamis that killed greater than 130 folks and devastated fisheries. Precisely 25 years later, an Exxon Valdez oil tanker struck Bligh Reef within the Prince William Sound, spewing 10.8 million gallons of crude oil into the ocean. The spill affected 1,300 miles of water and shoreline, a lot of which remains to be thought of to be in restoration. 

Now, Alaskan fishermen are dealing with one other pressing drawback. Alaska is already feeling the consequences of local weather change, because the warming oceans have wreaked havoc on ecosystems of krill, wild kelp forests, salmon and birds. That’s all on prime of the lingering losses brought on by the 1989 oil spill. Earlier than the Exxon spill, the Sound’s spring run of herring totalled greater than 200,000 tons returning residence. Immediately, there are solely 4,000 tons returning yearly. Lankard just lately offered his fishing allow after a number of consecutive unhealthy seasons. 

To assist mitigate the consequences of warming waters, Lankard is now embracing an method often called regenerative ocean farming, which includes rising seaweed and shellfish in small underwater gardens. As soon as a business fisherman, Lankard now principally farms kelp. 

“Alaska has always been based on extraction. We’re a natural resource extraction state,” says Lankard. “What regenerative ocean farming does is create a new regenerative economy that’s based on conservation, restoration and mitigation, as opposed to more extraction of resources.”

The burgeoning idea of regenerative ocean farming was developed and named by Bren Smith, a Canadian business fisherman turned ocean farmer. He believes ocean farming is the brand new farming mannequin of the long run. 

After leaving business fishing boats within the Bering Sea within the 1990’s to work on salmon farms, Smith shortly grew disheartened by the farms’ inherent monoculture. Aquaculture was touted as an answer to overfishing, he says, but was simply as harmful.

Disillusioned by the fishing trade, Smith got down to discover a extra sustainable option to work with the seas. He made his option to Lengthy Island Sound, the place there was a program to lease shellfishing grounds to younger business fishermen beneath 40. He leased 20 acres of water, the place he’s been elevating oysters, mussels and kelp on Thimble Island Ocean Farm in Connecticut since 2005. There, Smith labored to hone his sustainable ocean farming mannequin—a journey he chronicled in his James Beard Award-winning memoir, Eat Like a Fish.

“What’s unique about the ocean as an agricultural space? When you stop and ask that question it becomes so easy,” says Smith. “The ocean’s like why don’t you grow things that don’t swim away and don’t have to feed? When you look at the ocean that way, there are hundreds of kinds of shellfish, and thousands of plants we can grow. That opens up a whole frontier of agriculture.”

Bren Smith raises kelp out of the water from a ship. Picture courtesy of GreenWave.

Progressively, Smith transitioned the farm into one of the nation’s first 3D ocean farms, which makes use of a vertical water column to develop a spread of species. The polyculture mannequin permits farmers to provide mussels, oysters, clams, scallops and likewise kelp, which soaks up 5 instances extra carbon than land-based crops. And it doesn’t require any irrigation, pesticides or fertilizer. Because the farm’s elements are stacked vertically, this could all be achieved with a small underwater footprint.

“There are no pens, no wild fish feed, no antibiotics, which means lower overhead for the farmers,” explains Smith. “You don’t need much structure, and can do it all with scaffolding and ropes and buoys.”

Kelp, which is loaded with potassium, iron, calcium, fiber, iodine and different nutritional vitamins, is catching on with cooks and customers as a tasty, nutritious superfood. It may be harvested and remodeled into kelp pickles, kelp mustards, kelp linguine, kelp ice cream and kelp canine treats. However kelp can be used to make non-food merchandise like plant fertilizer that helps scale back nitrogen run-off from land-based farming.

Although Smith initially referred to as his method 3D ocean farming, he’s just lately settled on utilizing the phrase “regenerative ocean farming” to explain it, impressed by “watching out brethren on land,” he says. “We want to create that link between soil and sea.”

In 2014, Smith and Emily Stengel based GreenWave, a nonprofit group that helps different ocean farmers replicate the regenerative ocean farming mannequin. “The community of passion is huge, but the community of practice is still quite small,” says Smith. Immediately, there are round 50 regenerative ocean farmers throughout the nation. GreenWave’s aim is to coach 10,000 farmers within the subsequent 10 years. “We have to do 10,000 years of learning in a decade,” Smith provides. “This is our chance to do right and build something powerful and beautiful and just out in the ocean.”

Catherine Puckett, the proprietor of Block Island Shellfish Farm & Block Island Kelp that’s positioned 12 miles off the coast of Rhode Island, is one of these new regenerative ocean farmers. Recognized regionally as “Oyster Wench,” Puckett added kelp to her operations in 2018. Earlier than then, she produced solely oysters, scallops and quahog clams. “You don’t have to worry about watering it or fertilizing it. It grows in the winter time, so you still have something going on in the off season,” she says. “It’s so worth it.”

In Maine, Matthew Moretti and his father Gary develop mussels and kelp at their farm, Bangs Island Mussels. Rising them collectively has had a major impression on the mussels, in response to Moretti. “They grow bigger and faster,” he says. And the regenerative ocean farming mannequin has an amazing impression on the surroundings. “It’s one of the only local scale solutions that we have for the global scale problem of climate change,” Moretti provides.

Again in Alaska, Lankard is wanting ahead to involving Indigenous peoples in ocean farming. He now sits on GreenWave’s board of administrators, and is the president and founder of the Native Conservancy, the place he works with 21 tribes throughout Alaska to assist create a resilient future for his or her communities.

Kelp farms are a serious half of that future, says Lankard, who sees them as an method “to put the wealth back into our villages.” His personal kelp farm has been profitable sufficient to permit him the likelihood of shopping for a close-by oyster farm, which he’d convert right into a polyculture farming system.

“I’ve had a really good living from the ocean,” he says, “so I feel this is my time to give back to it.”


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