Alternative Materials in Aquaculture
As young farmers of the sea, we are shocked by how much plastic it takes to rear our oysters and seaweed!
Degraded plastic fiber pollution from the conventionally available gear and customary materials contributes to the pollution of the marine environment. This may cause a deleterious effect where we are growing food: through habitat damage and decreased water quality. Other beginning aquaculturists are interested in maintaining a high quality cultivation environment and one major step towards creating and maintaining this is reducing the use of plastic on the water. We would like to conduct applied research for the benefit of the sector at large, which would increase sustainability and offer options for smaller producers to use these kinds of materials to differentiate themselves based on these “best practices”.
New aquaculture leases in Maine have more than quadrupled in the past 5 years, most of them at a scale small enough to consider alternative gear (which will most likely be more costly) to the almost 100% plastic options that are currently available. It would be a huge step to create and establish some workable alternatives for new or expanding farmers. In the near future, hopefully a truly 'sustainable aquaculture’ label can be developed that would help small producers compete in markets that are sure to consolidate and tip in favor of large-scale operations as the industry continues to grow. We hope that just like the new organic farmers, that those entering aquaculture can be protagonists for reforming some of these harmful (to the business and environment) plastic habits of aquaculture.
Our basic goal is to discern the best materials for the job, whose upstream and downstream supply and disintegration are aligned with our ecological goals. Said materials must be biodegradable and avoid chemical algicides and other toxins common in aquaculture equipment. From our preliminary research, we understand that some alternative materials to plastics have become available for use across sectors in the form of bio-plastics as well as traditional materials like wood, jute and hemp.
We are in the process of performing place-based tests of these potential alternatives, with an eye towards small scale user viability and longevity in Maine’s seascape. Even if the materials we choose are replaced every year and mulched on land, biofouling (biotic growth on gear) is fertile and diverse and might be a perfect on-land weed mat.
In partnership with Long Cove Sea Farms.