Credit: George Danby

In her Aug. 2 OpEd on the future of aquaculture in Maine, Kimberly Hamilton gets it half-right. Maine does have an opportunity to be a global player in aquaculture. Indeed, Maine can harness its natural resources to help feed a hungry and growing world. But the risky and environmentally damaging model being advanced in Belfast and Bucksport is not the way to go.

In Belfast, Nordic Aquafarms will pump 1,600 pounds of nitrogen a day into Belfast Bay, where pollution has already closed 4,093 acres to shellfishing. That’s 16 times the amount currently discharged on average by Belfast, a city of about 7,000. And that effluent will create algae blooms, and attract and feed sea lice, to the detriment of wild fish populations.

Nordic says it is almost impossible for fish to escape from land-based fish farms, but 20,000 fish escaped from a land-based fish farm in Vagan, Norway, as recently as July 28. Escaped fish compete with wild fish for spawning grounds, destroy wild-fish spawn, and breed with and weaken wild fish stock.

Farm fish are fed fishmeal composed in part by small forage fish. This is very inefficient, resulting in an 70 percent loss of protein, and it endangers forage fish stock, which are vital to overall wild fish populations.

But there is an alternative.

[Opinion: Maine has an opportunity to be a global player in aquaculture]

Green Wave is a Connecticut nonprofit that teaches and promotes a marine aquaculture system that not only doesn’t pollute, it actually renews and regenerates our beleaguered seas.

The heart of Green Wave’s system is kelp, but it also produces clams, mussels, scallops and oysters. The Green Wave model is based on kelp planted on long strings running just below the water’s surface and kept afloat and in place by buoys. Mussels are grown on vertical strings hanging from buoys, scallops in vertical pens, and oysters and clams in horizontal pens. And kelp is much more than you may think. Google “kelp cookbooks” and you’ll get at least 86,000 hits. Googling “kelp recipes” yields 3 million hits. That should keep you busy for a while.

Kelp is a natural ocean cleaner. It’s like planting trees in the ocean. It also accelerates the ocean’s absorption of carbon. That’s something to think about as record heat, massive wildfires and devastating floods ravage the planet.

With an investment of $150 million to $500 million, Nordic Aquafarms says it will create 60 jobs. That’s at most one job per $2.5 million invested, and some of those jobs may need to be filled elsewhere because of the expertise needed.

[Opinion: Maine salmon farms can be models of sustainable aquaculture]

Green Wave says a marine aquaculture farm based on its model can be launched with $20,000 and a modest boat, and can generate annual revenues of $100,000. Assuming a worst-case scenario of a $20,000 investment and only one job created, that means the Green Wave model creates at least 125 times as many jobs per dollar as the Nordic Aquafarms model, and every one of those jobs could be filled locally. That’s a return on investment that would make any CEO salivate.

Maine could become a world leader in renewing and regenerating our deeply troubled oceans while at the same time feeding a hungry world and creating good-paying jobs filled entirely by locals. There would be local control of our precious natural resources and our financial resources would remain in our communities.

The Green Wave system is no pie in the sky. It is being done in Connecticut and Washington state. It can be done here.

As Hamilton pointed out, marine research organizations and the University of Maine are eager to help develop Maine aquaculture. The resources and pieces are all here. But let’s do it right. Let’s renew and regenerate our oceans, not strain them further. A better world is possible, and Maine can lead the way. Let’s leave our children and grandchildren a planet they can live on.

Lawrence Reichard is a freelance writer who lives in Belfast.

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