Aquaculture: Seaweed Cultivation
Aquaculture describes systems in which humans intentionally cultivate organisms like shellfish, finfish, and algae in the water.
History of Aquaculture
This field is broad, and not just one thing. Practices that can be understood as aquaculture include First Nations traditional mariculture practices in British Columbia like Clam Gardens, South American floating finfish farms, Integrated Multitrophic Aquaculture, oyster cultivation, massive salmon pens in Norway, off-shore kelp farms for bio-fuel, and abalone restoration efforts off the coast of California.
As such, it is important to define your terms when engaging in conversations about aquaculture. Here, we focus on the ecological, economic, and social implications of the burgeoning international seaweed farming industry.
Contemporary Aquaculture Narratives
Dominant narratives about seaweed aquaculture have been shaped by its largest sectors, who delight in a ‘seaweed-as-world-saving” narrative. We hear that seaweed is the solution to climate change, pollution, the energy crisis, and even to economic disenfranchisement in rural towns.
Large, finfish aquaculture would like to associate itself with seaweed aquaculture, to benefit from the reputation “gourmet, artisanal, healthy qualities” of this hip age of seaweed, but industrial fish farms do not represent wise resource use or restoration. On both coasts, large, industrial aquaculture operations are currently making their way through regulatory hurdles to set up operations. But we know that not all aquaculture is alike. Research from around the world has shown the disease, displacement, and large negative footprint of conventional marine aquaculture.
Already, land-based salmon aquaculture projects are in final permitting stages around the state, threatening to pump millions of gallons of fresh water and dump thousands of pounds of nitrogen and potential pollution into our beautiful Penobscot Bay. Despite these foreign-owned CAFO fish operations’ pledge to ‘clean up’ their tailpipes with kelp farms.
Seaweed Commons Perspective
If we are to grow the seaweed, we must do it thoughtfully, at an appropriately scaled site, with local ownership and control. Constraining and directing the shape of the Maine seaweed commons is within our power as citizens as the Department of Marine Resources updates their regulation of seaweed harvest and aquaculture. Our coastal conservation organizations and farm associations need to drive forward a small farm agenda: conservation-minded, locally-owned, suitably sited and scaled, that suit the coastline and the cultural fabric of this beautiful state. Not, as has been the case lately, an “all aquaculture is good aquaculture” approach.