Quantcast
Food

Shell Fish Farming: Is it Sustainable?

By Hannah Norman

An otter backstrokes past the damp walkway as sea lions bark, resting on adjacent planks. Sunlight filters into the shaded labyrinth of mesh-lined cages that hang in the water column beneath Monterey's Municipal Wharf No. 2. Inside the suspended cylinders, thousands of California red abalone are munching on freshly harvested kelp.

"Welcome to our world under the wharf," said Art Seavey, co-owner of Monterey Abalone Company.

The historic pier is more than 90 years old; its wooden troughs were severely rotted out before the farm refurbished them and took up residence in the unused space. A built-in ladder eases the descent through a trapdoor from the bustling office and touristy marketplace above, where the company sells fully grown abalone for roughly $21 to $23 per pound. Local, high-end restaurants, as well as individuals, purchase the delicacy straight off the wharf.

Aquaculture provides more than half of all fish consumed globally, as wild fish catches are slowly diminishing. Experts say that seafood is an integral part of supplying food security, as well as sufficient protein and nutrition, to a global population that is expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050. A major battle for environmentalists and many aquaculture proponents alike is ensuring the industry moves away from environmentally harmful techniques, which have painted the growing sector with a negative brush.

Monterey Abalone Company hopes to help catalyze this shift. Founded in 1992, the company is one of six abalone farms in California, and it takes pride in its sustainable aquaculture practices. Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch, a program that helps consumers and businesses choose sustainable seafood options, gives abalone—when farmed in enclosed systems such as that of Monterey Abalone Company—a green, "best choice" ranking.

Trevor Fay, Seavey's partner, points out that the sea snails are indigenous to the Pacific coastline, as is their regular meal of hand-harvested kelp. One of the fastest growing plants on the planet, giant kelp expands 10 to 12 inches per day, providing a renewable, fresh resource to feed the abalone. "It all comes back to us relying on a healthy kelp bed," said Fay. "We need a healthy planet to continue our farming."

Still, kelp harvesting has been the most controversial aspect of their operation, even though the company is one of only two hand harvesters in the entire U.S., according to Fay. During the 1990s, the Monterey abalone outfit came under fire after an out-of-town kelp harvester unrelated to the company mechanically clear-cut a giant kelp bed just offshore. It wasn't until after a 2000 Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary study, which concluded that Fay and Seavey's business only harvested about one-tenth of one percent of the bay's kelp, that tensions subsided.

Corey Peet, a sustainable seafood consultant, said that across the U.S. and Canada, the pendulum has swung too far toward the anti-aquaculture side, propelled in part by the notoriously bad byproducts of salmon farming, such as waste excretion from net pens, the overuse of antibiotics and the spread of disease to wild populations. Another problem with finfish farming is the feed conversion ratio. Salmon and other finfish, which are predators by nature, feed on harvested smaller fish that are ground into fishmeal. It can take up to five pounds of wild fish to produce one pound of salmon.

"There are shades of gray in which the sustainability of our species will be determined," Peet said. "Clearly, aquaculture has a role to play, but it's not going to be salmon or tuna feeding the masses."

That's where shellfish, and species like abalone that are lower on the food chain, come in. Bivalves, such as mussels and clams, are filter feeders, which means that they don't require any additional feeding, according to Judith Weis, a member of the Sierra Club's Marine Action Team and a professor of biological sciences at Rutgers University. They also absorb excess nutrients from the ocean, which can actually be beneficial to water quality and local ecosystems.

Just like with finfish farming, however, not all shellfish aquaculture embraces best practices, notes Weis. Bivalve culture can be an avenue for introducing invasive species—and their diseases—to a new area, along with smaller hitchhiking critters such as oyster drills, limpets and algae. Cultivating species in a native habitat prevents these negative impacts on local ecosystems. "Aquaculture is a necessary thing because we are depleting wild stocks, but let's learn to do it right," she said.

Aquaculture can also be integral in restoring local species decimated by overfishing and coastal degradation.

California's once plentiful abalone population succumbed to a combination of overharvesting and a disease called withering foot syndrome. In 1997, the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife closed both sport and commercial abalone fishing for all seven species of the sea snail. Today, only freediving for red abalone, the most abundant variety, is permitted on a short stretch of coast above San Francisco.

Though the Monterey Abalone Company raises their abalone for eating, Fay said they contribute to restoration and environmental efforts through their educational partnerships. In 2008, the company started a hatchery in a joint project with Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, a consortium campus for seven California state universities, where students can study the species' early life cycle. It has also hosted groups from the restaurant industry, such as the Culinary Institute of America, to raise awareness about the environmental benefits of sustainable seafood. The farm regularly invites elementary and high school classrooms from around Monterey County in for discussions about California's depleted abalone population, as well as aquaculture best practices.

"It's very important to educate the public about how and why we're doing it," Fay said. "Most people aren't aware of where the food comes from."

The company is doing a few experiments of their own, too, in order to minimize their environmental impact even more. The marine farmers have begun growing purple hinged rock scallops, which hang underneath the abalone in the water column and feed off of extra nutrients excreted from the abalone above.

"The idea of cultivating species with different ecological roles together, multiaquaculture, is a really clever idea," Weis said. "That's really good."

Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
African elephant. USFWS

Lawsuit Challenges Trump Administration Over New Elephant and Lion Trophy Policies, Still in Effect Despite Trump's Tweets

The Center for Biological Diversity and Natural Resources Defense Council sued the Trump administration Monday for allowing U.S. hunters to import elephant and lion trophies from Zimbabwe. The lawsuit aims to protect animals and resolve confusion created by the administration's contradictory announcements in recent days.

The suit comes days after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service abruptly reversed an Obama-era ban on elephant trophy imports based on catastrophic elephant population declines. Fish and Wildlife also recently greenlighted lion trophy imports from Zimbabwe, despite the controversial killing of Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe in 2015.

Keep reading... Show less
Below the Mackinac bridge runs Enbridge Line 5, transporting 23 Million gallons of oil and liquid gas every day. Conor Mihell

Four Questions About the New Line 5 Pipeline Report

By Beth Wallace

In June, the state of Michigan released a draft report on alternatives to Enbridge's Line 5 pipeline, which pumps up to 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids (NGLs) per day along the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac. The draft report, written by Dynamic Risk, was met with heavy criticism from all sides, and the National Wildlife Federation joined with many others to suggest numerous and substantive changes. On Nov. 20, the final alternatives report was released to the public. As per an agreement with the state to obtain funding for the report, Enbridge has had five days to review this report before it is released publicly.

Keep reading... Show less
USDA

Thanksgiving Dinner Is Cheapest in Years, But Are Family Farms Paying the Price?

By Sarah Reinhardt

Last week, the Farm Bureau released the results of its annual price survey on the cost of a typical Thanksgiving dinner. The grand total for a "feast" for 10 people, according to this year's shoppers? About 50 dollars ($49.87, if you want to be exact). That includes a 16-pound turkey at $1.40 per pound, and a good number of your favorite sides: stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a veggie tray, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and coffee and milk.

After adjusting for inflation, the Farm Bureau concluded that the cost of Thanksgiving dinner was at its lowest level since 2013. Let's talk about what that means for farmers, and for all of us.

Keep reading... Show less

Would More People Ride the Bus if It Looked and Felt Like a Train?

By Jeff Turrentine

It moves through city thoroughfares, towering above automobile traffic. It makes frequent stops to pick up and drop off passengers. It has places to sit, places to stand, and—yes—rubber-tired wheels that go 'round and 'round, all through the town.

But don't call it a bus. It's a "trackless electric train."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

Electric Car Sales Surge 63% Globally

Electric vehicles (EVs) continue to gain momentum on the world market.

Global sales of electric and hybrid cars are 63 percent higher than the same quarter last year, and up 23 percent from the second quarter, according to a Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) report.

Keep reading... Show less
Harvesting sugarcane in Brazil. Jonathan Wilkins / CC BY-SA

Jet Fuel From Sugarcane? It’s No Flight of Fancy

By Deepak Kumar, Stephen P. Long and Vijay Singh

The aviation industry produces two percent of global human-induced carbon dioxide emissions. This share may seem relatively small—for perspective, electricity generation and home heating account for more than 40 percent—but aviation is one of the world's fastest-growing greenhouse gas sources. Demand for air travel is projected to double in the next 20 years.

Airlines are under pressure to reduce their carbon emissions, and are highly vulnerable to global oil price fluctuations. These challenges have spurred strong interest in biomass-derived jet fuels. Bio-jet fuel can be produced from various plant materials, including oil crops, sugar crops, starchy plants and lignocellulosic biomass, through various chemical and biological routes. However, the technologies to convert oil to jet fuel are at a more advanced stage of development and yield higher energy efficiency than other sources.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Renewable Energy
"Eólica" or wind power plant in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. ICE Group / Twitter

Costa Rica Runs Entirely on Renewable Energy for 300 Days

Costa Rica has charted another clean energy accolade. So far this year, the Central American country has run on 300 days of 100 percent power generation from renewable energy sources, according to the Costa Rican Institute of Electricity (ICE), which cited figures from the National Center for Energy Control.

With six weeks left of 2017 to go, Costa Rica could easily surpass 300 days.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
iStock

Starbucks Falls Short on Environmental Commitments

By Davis Harper

Since the early 1970s, Starbucks has held a special place in cupholders. Widespread infatuation with the company's caffeinated beverages has earned the coffee giant a storefront on almost every corner. With outposts in 75 countries and a whopping 13.3 million people enrolled in its loyalty rewards program, Starbucks has scorched nearly all of its closest competitors among major U.S. food brands (most of which aren't even coffee chains) in total market value.

With such reach and power comes tremendous responsibility. Starbucks touts its own corporate responsibility—claiming to be climate-change-aware and cognizant of its environmental cup-print—but how many latte-sippers know that their paper cup actually isn't recyclable and that it'll likely end up in a landfill? Might the knowledge that Starbucks's meat supply is pumped with antibiotics alter the market's appetite for the popular chicken and double-smoked bacon sandwich? Although the company prides itself on environmental awareness and progress toward sustainable products, multiple reports point to the mega-corporation's failure to live up to its own purported standards.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!