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Chesapeake Bay Aquaculture Presents

November 23, 2015 1:24 PM

Chesapeake Bay aquaculture presents as many opportunities as challenges, seafood leaders say


Panelists at the National Aquarium's East Coast Seafood Forum discuss advances in aquaculture technology and challenges associated with the industry.

Jumping in on the oyster gold rush might seem like a quick way to make a buck, but area aquaculture leaders say creating a viable aquaculture business in the Chesapeake Bay is tougher than it looks.

There's plenty of room for new players in Maryland's aquaculture industry, and part of the National Aquarium's East Coast Seafood Forum on Monday highlighted advancements in aquaculture technology that will help the field expand. But there are also a number of challenges associated with growing fish and shellfish.

The biggest hurdle, particularly for small-scale fish farmers such as Chris Bentley of Bradley Bay Farms in Quinby, Va., is growing their business to scale.

"It has been challenging as a small producer, "Bentley said during a panel discussion at the forum. "Our biggest challenge is our scale, trying into the existing seafood supply chain. Most of that supply chain you really need large volumes consistent supply."

There are several options for growing environments when it comes to aquaculture. Fish and shellfish can be grown in ponds, tanks or marine environment, although some species are better suited for particular environments.

For those species that flourish in tanks, scientists at the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology in downtown Baltimore are working to develop technology that makes growing them more environmentally sustainable. John Stubblefield, a researcher at the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology, is helping develop technology for those systems to help them use less salt water, recycle water and eliminate waste. Growing European sea bass, for example, generates 825 pounds of waste for every 2200 pounds of fish, he said, and managing and storing that waste can create a real problem in a warehouse with limited space.

Stubblefield is also working on high-density breeding to maximize the return on tank space.

"If you're going to be spending the money on tank infrastructure, you better be making some money on the back side because it's more effective," Stubblefield said

Closed-loop aquaculture systems like the ones used at the Pier V facility - which don't draw on or return to external water souces - are just coming to market, and they're still expensive. And growing fish in ponds or other marine enviornments comes with its own set of difficulties, including managing escapes and competing with other land-use and water-use interests.

Oysters have been one area where local watermen have seen success in growing and creating sustainable aquaculture businesses. Hooper’s Island Oyster Aquaculture Co. is one such company that's figured out the oyster equation, and one that co-founder John Shockley said can serve as a model for other fisheries.

Shockley spent his life as a waterman on the Chesapeake Bay, and he helped found the oyster farm after realizing watermen needed to rethink their harvesting methods.

“We could not rebuild the house from the roof down,” Shockley said. “We have to figure out how to start over again.”




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