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Archive for the ‘Sustainable Seafood’ Category

Aquaculture isn’t just about seafood anymore.  The future of sustainable aquaculture lies in farms that not only grow nutritious food, but also offer a robust business that serves multiple sectors of the economy while improving the environment.

“We’re talking about providing biofuel, organic fertilizer, and food while also restoring the environment.”

That’s how Bren Smith, founder of Thimble Island Oysters, summed up his big vision for saving oysters and the planet at a recent workshop put on by Future of Fish.

And how to do that?

Start farming seaweeds (or, as we science nerds call it, macroalgae) in addition to shellfish and/or fish.

It wasn’t the first time I heard this answer. The role of seaweed in saving the seas was something I had begun to think about over four years ago when I invited Stephen Cross to speak on a panel about how entrepreneurs could help save seafood and the sea.   His version of the multi-species model, Pacific SEA-lab in British Columbia, includes sablefish, mussels, sea cucumbers, oysters and kelp. Known as Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture (IMTA), variations are springing up all over the globe, including a pilot study in the Bay of Fundy to test how mussels and kelp can benefit from (and help counter-act the negative effects of ) established salmon farms and an Israeli company call SeaOr Marine Enterprises that integrates seabream, seaweeds, and abalone.

The future of aquaculture is all about diversifying the products and spreading the risk for ocean farmers.  But the future of the planet is about creating businesses that can help, rather than harm, the ecosystem.  Farming seaweed alongside other marine species does both. It’s one of the opportunities the SOCAP13 Oceans track recently introduced to impact investors. And if that audience gets this big picture, it could really take things to the next level.

The rapid turnover rate of seaweed helps to balance out the slower-growing fish or shellfish, providing a harvestable crop that can help carry the farm when natural disasters (such as hurricane Sandy) or disease threaten the more sensitive species.

For example, Bren’s 300 sq ft plot can grow 24 tons of kelp every three to five months. If you are thinking “that’s a lot of sushi wrappers,” I agree. But kelp is far more versatile than that.  Adventurous and creative chefs are already concocting kelp ice cream, seaweed fettucine, and yes, a happy hour kelp cocktail.  But the use of kelp is not just in the food business.  This nutritious seaweed is also a source of biofuel, and its high nitrogen content makes it a great source of organic fertilizer.

As an investor, these farms offer the opportunity to invest in different sectors of the economy: seafood, agriculture (through fertilizers) and energy.

But, they do something else too.

Growing seaweeds helps to combat climate change and clean the water.  Kelp forests sequester more carbon dioxide than trees on land. This means IMTA farms can serve as a Blue Carbon source—a coastal habitat that stores carbon, helping to reduce the impact of climate change.   At the same time, shellfish and kelp both absorb nitrogen, reducing the effect of terrestrial run-off.  With carbon and nitrogen trading schemes already underway, IMTA ventures offer potential returns based on these environmental services, in addition to the products.

Dozens of IMTA research projects and already-established businesses are underway.  But, to move from pilot project to commercial farm, or from small-scale to large-scale operations, requires funds.  Bren recently turned to Kickstarter to generate the necessary funds to scale his operation (check out the link for a great video about his farm).  But investors can take it to the next level.  If they can see the multiple benefits and investment promise of IMTAs it could really change the financial playing field for ocean health.  I’m keeping my kelp fronds crossed that they do.

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Get a jump on how entrepreneurs, investors and yes, some scientists, are helping create a new paradigm for saving fish. http://ow.ly/ouCOX

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Blogging for SOCAP13 Oceans track. Plenaries start today. The Ocean Track blog provides sneak peaks at what’s to come. http://ow.ly/owmbT #SOCAP13 #socent

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Imagine an Amazon.com of sustainable seafood.  It would have an impressive variety of fare, from clams and oysters to crabs, ling cod, and salmon.  It would be available 24 hrs a day, with delivery direct to your door, all with the simple click of the button. And now, consider that with every delivery, and every bite, you could take pride in directly supporting fishers who are supporting the environment.

Welcome to the world of i love blue sea, an online marketplace providing sustainable seafood sourced directly from fishers, vetted for quality, reliability, and responsibility.

It’s a simple idea turned into an effective business by “fishermen, surfers, dreamers, foodies and entrepreneurs,” as they claim on their website.  Based on Fisherman’s Wharf, SF, these guys and gals have opened up a whole new channel for funneling sustainable seafood into the hands and bellies of seafood lovers around the country.  It’s another example of how entrepreneurship can help turn the tide on a drowning seafood industry—an proof that profit and sustainability can go hand in hand, or at least, hook and hand.

I only stumbled across the website recently, on a hunt for numbers on how many oysters Americans consumed a year.  Their site was noted for the variety of oysters they provide, and I was impressed by the diversity of their selections across the board.  I plan to investigate further, wanting to learn more about how they manage to provide free shipping, while giving better prices to fishers and better quality (and conscience) to customers.  But, from the looks of it, i love blue sea is serving as an honest link in a far more simplified chain, connecting consumer with producer, feaster with fisher.

A virtual marketplace for seafood that benefits the sea, the foodies, and the fisher? I think this could be love.

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In the spirit of true social entrepreneurship, Patagonia is taking the lessons its learned from improving the cotton industry and applying them to . . . Salmon. Salmon Jerky that is.  In what may be as remarkable a jump as those tenacious salmon make up river each year, Patagonia’s founder Yvon Chouinard has moved from clothing to the food (and music) industry.  Patagonia is now working in close coordination with the non-profit Skeena Wild to select only sockeye or pink salmon from healthy, sustainable runs, caught by low-impact, highly selective gear (dip nets, fish wheels, tangle tooth nets and beach seines) and processing it into jerky to be sold in its stores. This approach significantly reduces catch of unwanted species, and takes the fish in alive, making for a more tasty jerky.  (The culinary attributes are also enhanced by partnership with Harald Kossler, “legendary smokehouse guru.”) The overall goal is to provide support to fisheries that are doing things right, helping to create and grow demand for a more sustainable product.

While it may seem like a giant leap, this approach has worked before for Patagonia.  After discovering the extremely negative environmental impact of traditionally grown cotton (massive pesticide and chemical use, huge water footprint, horrible processing pollutants to name a few), the company at first debated whether to just eliminate cotton from its clothing. But, after realizing that this wouldn’t change the industry (there were so many other companies willing to accept the cotton as it was manufactured), they decided to work closely with a few willing cotton growers to help them change their practice.  By 1996, this commitment helped open the door to more readily available organic cotton, something now in high demand.

For Chouinard, the approach to helping save salmon is no different. They are using their market power and environmental ethics to help create a product and grow a demand for a more sustainable salmon jerky–an evidently pretty popular food item. Patagonia’s hope is that by supporting more sustainable fisheries and producing a high-quality jerky, they can help shift the salmon industry in the same way they helped shift the cotton industry.

While the salmon jerky is not yet available, keep an eye out for it in the next few months. It may be just the thing to top off the shopping list for that next camping trip.  At $12.50 a pack, it is not cheap, but when you consider these little dried up fish bits may be helping to save the last of the truly wild salmon, it sure seems a price worth paying.  And I’m a vegetarian.

Photo Credit: US Fish and Wildlife

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October 16th marks the 33rd annual World Food Day—a time to reflect upon and increase action to solve world hunger.  It is a day focused on food, but fundamentally, hunger is an issue about politics (check out the fantastic blog here by my good friend, Sarah Kalloch on this issue).  The fact is, there is enough food to go around on this planet, if we raise it sustainably and distribute it fairly.  The oceans have a tremendous role to play in achieving this. And one of the best ways we can utilize the oceans is to mimic them.

Sound idealistic? Perhaps. But as chef Dan Barber describes in his Ted talk, it is possible.  And the results are not only environmentally beneficial, but evidently pleasing to the palette, too.

Imagine a beautiful wetland, tall grasses stretching for miles in the early morning sun. The fields are natural scrub brushes, pulling pollutants and debris out of the water that snakes it way in glistening silver streams among the copper stems.  Water birds delicately pick their way between the rushes. They are still as statues one moment, lightening fast the next as they spear fishes and shrimp with their elongate beaks.  The bright pink of flamingos mixes with the dulled hues of the marsh.  Below the surface of shimmering ponds swim hundreds of fish, feasting on the rich shrimp which in turn feed upon the abundant microalgae.

Welcome, to Veta La Palma, a restored wetland that combines aquaculture, agriculture and livestock production while serving as one of the largest bird sanctuaries in Europe.  It’s a place where people’s harvests are shared with resident and migrating birds in a relationship that is viewed as beneficial–you’ll find no scarecrows here.  Instead, bountiful, delicious fish, crops, and meat are produced while preserving (and even creating) habitat for threatened species.  Meanwhile, the water is cleaner than ever before.

It’s ironic, in some ways, that this operation is located in Spain, a country historically notorious for poor fisheries policy and practice.  But I’m not going to let the irony dull my enthusiasm for the system that has been created here. Something our degraded US wetlands might greatly benefit from.  (I wonder if anyone involved in the restoration of the Gulf is considering this as a model?)

When considering how to help alleviate hunger, and contemplating where our food comes from in general, it brings me comfort to know that one option is to source from a farm such as this— place where nature and people both appear to benefit from increased food production.

Is it perfect? Probably not. I am sure there are some flaws. But still, it’s pretty darn close to ideal. Then again, this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise—Nature’s had a long, long time to figure out how to maintain herself.  It’s about time we started to simply copy her ways.

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Now here’s a good idea: rather than trying to educate thousands of consumers about sustainable seafood options via wallet-sized seafood guides, let the price of the fish do the talking. And nothing screams “pick me!” louder than a freebie.  The idea, called “Switch the Fish” is an effort by UK’s Sainsbury’s supermarket to offer alternative fish to the traditional big 5. Every time a customer went to get their usual cod, haddock, tuna, salmon or prawns they were offered the chance to take home a less-well-known alternative, such as pouting or mackerel, for FREE. (They also got some suggested tasty recipes—with a little help from celebrity chef Jamie Oliver).

It is a great way to get people thinking about alternative species, especially those that are more sustainably caught or are typically wasted as bycatch.  Often, perfectly good fish are chucked over the gunnels because they are considered low value, and there is no market. By having large grocery stores willing to expand their selection, and encouraging consumers to do the same, bycatch turns into profits. Less waste for the ocean and the fisher.

There is no doubt that we need to take pressure off some of the most popular, and least sustainable species, such as tuna and shrimp. However, there is a risk in this kind of campaign: it is critical that people don’t simply add MORE fish to their diet. Instead, it truly requires a “switch”, so that overall demand for seafood does not increase.  Sometimes, the media blitz surrounding such efforts winds up increasing purchases of fish in general, and that does nothing to help the seas.

So, as with every campaign, education and specific targets are key. The alternative species need to indeed be more sustainable (and in this instance, they appear to be) and consumers need to understand that eating more fish is bad—no matter the type. But, if you are going to eat seafood, it’s not a bad idea to “switch the fish,” and getting a free trial for a foreign-looking fish seems like a great way to encourage that behavioral shift.

And, the more retailors get in on this action, the easier the education becomes for the consumer. It’s far more effective to leverage one retail chain than to try and education thousands of individual shoppers. It’s another way that businesses can take a big bold step forward in helping to secure their own future fish supplies, while helping to save seafood and the seas.

So, if a similar campaign were to kick off here in the U.S., who should we target? What grocery store do you think would go for it?

Photo credit: Ell Brown

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