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 conventional aquaculture gear and customary materials contributes to the pollution of marine environments.  Plastics cause harm to marine organisms at multiple scales through habitat damage and decreased water quality. This may cause a deleterious effect where we are growing food! As our plastic ropes fray, their tiny shards of petri-chemicals and the pollutants bound to them become a part of the bodies of shellfish we grow. Buoys and other gear introduce yet more plastics into our ocean waters. How can we prevent this?

One of our key ongoing "action research" projects at Seaweed Commons is "Alternatives to Plastics in Aquaculture," a series of participatory experiments in non-plastic materials for aquaculture. As beginning and lifelong aquaculturists in love with the ocean and all the life they contain, we seek to maintain a high-quality cultivation environment. One major way to do this is reducing the use of plastics on and in the water. This project was first funded by NESARE in 2020 to support the partnership of Smithereen Farm and Long Cove Sea Farm in exploring, testing, examining and discerning how traditional (and non-traditional) marine materials, including hemp, cork, coir, cedar, pine tar, and mycelium, can be used in the construction of lines, floats, and oyster cages. 

 

 

 

Join us!

Our basic goal is to discern the best materials for the job while ensuring their 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. 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. 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.

Once we started along this path of inquiry with an open source list of materials and approaches, the seaweed commons responded by introducing us to all sorts of interesting people with great ideas. (See “ Aquaculture and the Plastic Problem" - Edible Magazine, and Mushroom Buoys - Bangor Daily News). If you are such a person, join us!  Email [email protected] with questions, ideas, or to find ways to get involved!

A cold call to mycologist Sue Van Hook resulted in a fantastic two part workshop this spring at Smithereen Farm where we grew mycelium in ground hemp into forms we custom made to be able to insert into the conventionally available Brooks Trap oyster ranches (made in Maine).

 

Mycelium Buoys - Innoculating the Myco-lab

A cold call to mycologist Sue Van Hook resulted in a fantastic two part workshop this spring at Smithereen Farm where we grew mycelium in ground hemp into forms we custom made to be able to insert into the conventionally available Brooks Trap oyster ranches (made in Maine).

The vision is a biodegradable myco-buoy that you put into your cages in the spring, and take out when you sink your cages in the fall. This could be a micro-business for someone here at Smithereen Farm, or in association with the handful of oyster spat-growers in the state from whom the majority of oyster farms get their babies.

We also prototyped a Japanese style “ barrel bouy” intended as a marker/ rope float for kelp lines and for the corners of aqua-farms.  We welcome you to come and see what we have going on the water, and if you are a small grower yourself, to get in touch about other ideas.

Context: Aquaculture Growth 

New aquaculture leases in Maine have more than quadrupled in the past 5 years, most of them at a small enough scale to consider using alternative gear (which will most likely be more costly) to the almost 100% plastic options that are currently mainstream.  It would be a huge step to create and establish workable alternatives for new or expanding farmers.

We hope that in the near future that we could contribute as advocates, stakeholders, and co-designers of our evolving regulatory system— where the best practices we cherish in our sector are protected.  We want to participate in locally owned, conservation minded, suitably sited and, hopefully a truly 'sustainable aquaculture.’

It may be that we can create a set of standards or a label that would help small producers like ourselves compete in markets that already privilege large-scale operations. As the seaweed and aquaculture industry grows here in Maine and other places around the world— with 8 new foreign backed salmon operations in Maine alone—  we believe that just like the new organic farmers, those entering aquaculture and those already operating in shared waters can be protagonists for reforming some of these harmful (to the business and environment) plastic habits of aquaculture.

 

In partnership with Long Cove Sea Farms.

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