Ocean farm­ing goes in a new di­rec­tion

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By Gre­gory B. Hladky gh­ladky@courant.com

BRANFORD, Conn. — Bren Smith’s “ver­ti­cal ocean farm” doesn’t look very im­pres­sive — just some black and white buoys bob­bing in the waves off Long Is­land Sound’s Thim­ble Is­lands.

But he’s cer­tain that what lies a few feet be­neath those wa­ters can change the way the world raises and eats food.

Those buoys are an­chor­ing and keep­ing afloat a grid of ropes hang­ing about 6 feet be­low the sur­face of the Sound, well above the seabed. The ropes sup­port tons of sugar kelp and crates and bags of oys­ters, mus­sels and scal­lops that Smith and his two co- work­ers tend and har­vest year- round.

Smith has plans to help cre­ate f ive new “ver­ti­cal ocean farms” a year over the next f ive years in south­ern New Eng­land. Nine new ocean farms based on his sys­tem are al­ready in the works in Mas­sachusetts, Rhode Is­land, Con­necti­cut and on Pe­conic Bay at the tip of Long Is­land.

“When I started, they were laugh­ing me off the wa- ter,” Smith said re­cently of other shell­fish­er­men.

No one’s laugh­ing any­more.

Smith has been awarded a $ 100,000 grant for win­ning the Fuller Chal­lenge, an in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion fi­nanced by the Buck­min­ster Fuller In­sti­tute to pro­mote ideas in en­vi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity. His non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion, GreenWave, has re­ceived grants from mul­ti­ple fed­eral agen­cies and pri­vate do­na­tions.

The New­found­land na­tive is con­vinced his new sys­tem of sus­tain­able ocean agri­cul­ture can pro­duce health­ful, pol­lu­tion- free, en­vi­ron­men­tally ben­e­fi­cial food for a planet in deep cli­mate trou­ble.

Now 43, Smith said he never ex­pected to end up as a self- de­scribed “kelp farmer” along Con­necti­cut’s shore­line. “It’s the most bor­ing job I’ve ever had,” he said.

He has worked on boats out of Alaska, hunt­ing for cod and crab, and from New Eng­land ports. But when wild f ish stocks be­gan to crash, he be­gan look­ing for a sus­tain­able way to make a liv­ing on the wa­ter.

Smith ended up in Con­necti­cut, leas­ing shell­fish beds from the state, har­vest­ing oys­ters the same way all of the other shell­fish­ing com­pa­nies were do­ing it. Then came Irene in 2011 and Sandy in 2012, mas­sive storms that buried Smith’s shell­fish beds un­der tons of mud, sand and de­bris.

Smith said he slowly re­al­ized the best way to keep his aqua­cul­ture op­er­a­tion from be­ing ru­ined by the next giant storm was to lift it off the seafloor. “We moved it off the bot­tom,” he said, by creat­ing hur­ri­cane- proof an­chors for the buoys that hold his farm to­gether.

“We went 3- D,” Smith added with a smile.

He also got into kelp farm­ing, com­bin­ing it with his el­e­vated shell­fish­ing scheme.

Mus­sels and scal­lops hang be­low the seaweed, crates of oys­ters hang be­low those, and clams thrive in the mud of the seabed. The sys­tem is so pro­duc­tive that Smith is now us­ing only about 3 of the 20 acres of shell­fish­ing beds he leases from the state.

Brad Hor­ri­gan

BREN SMITH, pic­tured off Branford, Conn., says his ver­ti­cal sys­tem of rais­ing shellf ish and kelp ben­e­fits the planet as well as con­sumers at a cru­cial time.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.