Media watch: A positive spin on aquaculture


April Forristall, assistant editor

Published on
July 18, 2011

The mainstream media often looks negatively at finfish farming, but shellfish farming has been the subject of several positive stories in the past month or two.

Recent research conducted in Maine shows that mussels can combat sea lice in salmon farms. The Bangor Daily News reported in late June that researchers collected blue mussels and found larval sea lice in their stomachs and intestines.

“Researchers plan to test the effectiveness of using mussels to combat sea lice by placing a fully loaded mussel aquaculture raft at an undetermined salmon aquaculture site. If the mussels prove effective, a ring of mussel rafts could be placed around a group of salmon pens, effectively shielding the fish from sea lice,” said the Maine newspaper.

The Boston Globe reported that the city is gearing up for a resurgence of urban clams. In early July, scientists, students and state and city officials began planting clams in tidal flats off Thompson Island in Boston Harbor, making them the first cultivation beds within city limits. 

Both stories are a far cry from the usual mainstream media coverage that focuses on the potential downfalls of aquaculture, like escapement issues and environmental risks.

But where the real negativity toward aquaculture can be seen is in local skirmishes, according Jon Rowley of Taylor Shellfish Farms in Shelton, Wash. 

“I think where I see [aquaculture] getting a bad rap is in local situations where home owners don’t want aquaculture near their property and the local press picks it up,” said Rowley. 

One such example is in Maine, where recreational boaters are complaining that nets from a mussel farm are presenting hazards from boats. In Nova Scotia, citizens are voicing concern over Cooke Aquaculture opening three new salmon-farm sites, which the company is countering by promoting the employment opportunities that it’s salmon-processing plant would create. And it appears to be working, as hundreds of Shelburne County residents are coming out in support of the new salmon farms and processing plant due to the jobs and benefit to the local economy.

“Shellfish growers aren’t doing what they can to promote themselves,” said Rowley. “They have a very highly sustainable product, and I don’t think they toot their horn about it enough.”

The best way to prompt the media to paint aquaculture in a positive light is through fun and entertainment, said Rowley, citing events like the Oyster Olympics, the Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition and the Walrus and Carpenter Picnic. For the picnic, participants are taken by bus to oyster beds at night during low tide and can shuck their own oysters. There are also oyster bars set up on the beach.

“In doing these things I try to involve the right politicians and the right celebrities to keep building support amongst the right people,” said Rowley. “The strategy is to have fun.” 

About 85 percent of seafood consumed by Americans is imported, and increased domestic aquaculture production can help close the USD 9 billion seafood trade deficit. It’s up to the industry to promote the bright side of aquaculture to get the support it needs.

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