Innovative Fishing Techniques Could Signal the Return of Safe Domestic Seafood

Vertical farming holds tremendous benefits for agriculture, but it could an even more profound effect on aquaculture.
Shellfish and seaweed can reverse ocean pollutants. (Photo: Paul Kay/Getty Images)
Nov 4, 2012· 2 MIN READ
A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades has previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and a medical writer.

Yesterday we told you about the burgeoning practice of vertical farming, growing produce in towers as a way to save space and drastically reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that go hand in hand with factory farming. But the trend seems to have already spread beyond agriculture and into "aquaculture."

Small, ocean-friendly farms in Long Island have adopted "vertical aqua farming" as a way to provide safe naturally-grown seafood, while not only curtailing the effects of ocean pollution, but in many respects, actually reversing them as well.

Small-scale aqua farms use vertical towers much like the ones that are used to grow produce. But instead of living above ground, they’re (obviously) submerged in sea water, and are designed to grow multiple strains of seaweed and shellfish, including mussels, oysters and clams.

According to National Geographic, when grown vertically, seaweed and shellfish require almost no space, absolutely no fertilizer, and no freshwater.

Farms like Thimble Island Oysters, also curtail their “fishing” (read: placement of submerged towers) to within 100 miles of its main hub in order to keep the company’s fuel use low. Thimble in particular also uses its own solar-powered refrigeration systems and recycled cages, all in the name of feeding its local community while respecting its environment.

So how does vertical aqua farming actually reverse the effects of ocean pollution? It’s surprisingly simple. Though nitrogen is helpful to humans, too much of it in the ocean― often from residential and agricultural runoff― creates large algae blooms that deplete the water’s oxygen levels and kill its marine life. Shellfish and seaweed are like natural filters in the ocean, drawing out its nitrogen and heavy metals and restoring the water's natural balance.

And it doesn’t take that much seaweed or shellfish to accomplish; a single oyster can filter as much as fifty gallons of water a day, so even small aqua farms can have measurable impacts on water quality.

In fact, NPR reports that Dr. Charles Yarish of the University of Connecticut, in conjunction with the Bronx-based initiative Rock the Boat, are vertically aqua farming seaweed and mussels in the Bronx River. Their aim isn’t to create food, but simply to clean the water of nitrogen and other pollutants. And it’s working.

As if that weren't enough, the kelp produced by these farms is proving to be a rich source of biofuel, more potent than corn or soy. Because kelp is a fast-growing plant and can produce 2,000 gallons of biofuel per acre annually, it's no surprise that companies like RPM Sustainable Technologies are working with Long Island farms to harvest it. They plan to eventually bring it to market as a sustainable source of alternative fuel.

These new methods of fishing are such a far cry from the imported and utterly questionable factory farm fish we’re used to eating, that there must be a catch (pun intended.) But according to NPR, because shellfishing Stateside is so heavily regulated, the local waters of the Long Island Sound farms in particular are actually clean and the fish and seaweed safe to eat.

Do you think that vertical aqua farms could serve as practical replacements to the factory farms and imported fish we’ve come to rely upon? Let us know what you think in the Comments.