Massive Expansion of Shellfish Farming May be Key to Sustainable Aquaculture

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When I wrote about a rooftop aquaponic farm in Florida, I noted that aquaculture has a number of advantages over land-based animal husbandry. From the lack of gravity to the lessened need for fish to regulate their body temperatures, water-based farming results in much less entropy, and hence much higher yields per input of food or energy.

But fish tend to eat other fish. And while some of that feed may be made from scraps and waste byproduct, it's not hard to envision a problem with depleting wild fish stocks to feed the farmed ones.

But shellfish aquaculture is a whole other beast. I've already noted how responsible oyster farming in Chesapeake Bay can replenish native stocks and clean up the water in the process. Now ecoRInews has a great piece on the astounding potential for expanding shellfish aquaculture in Rhode Island:

Research also shows that oyster cultivation could be increased substantially in Rhode Island. Former URI graduate student Carrie Byron found that the biomass of cultured oysters could be increased 625 times current levels for Narragansett Bay and 62 times in Rhode Island’s coastal lagoons — or salt ponds — before the ecology of these ecosystems would be affected.

For Narragansett Bay, such an expansion would translate to about 218 million pounds of farmed oysters annually — an amount that is about four times the total estimated annual harvest of fish in the bay. Byron’s “socio-ecological carrying capacity” approach to aquaculture takes into consideration not only these figures and rigorous ecological modeling, but also a stakeholder process.

Besides the inherent efficiencies of aquaculture in general, shellfish aquaculture has other things going for it. From the general eco-principle of eating lower down the food chain (mussels and oysters feed on plankton, not fish), to the role of shellfish in filtering water, there's much to be said for an expansion of farming shellfish. And as Barry Costa-Pierce notes elsewhere on ecoRInews, traditional tensions between wild harvesters and shellfish farmers are being lessened by new cultivation methods and commercial realities:

Scientific findings are showing that shellfish aquaculture, when well managed, can provide solid environmental benefits, such as improving water quality by filtering nutrients and particles from the water and providing habitat for fish and other marine life. Also, as more wild harvesters are diversifying by turning to aquaculture for some part of their livelihoods, traditional animosities between shellfishermen and shellfish growers are receding.

Mussels and fries, anyone?

Tags: Agriculture | Biodiversity | Fish | Fishing | Oceans | Rhode Island | United States