Sarasota is in a water crisis. With more people moving here every year and increasing strains on stormwater retention and coastal developments, our water quality has been declining. Most open net pen fish farms worsen these problems, adding parasites, diseases, escaped fish, and nutrients to an already warm, nutrient-rich area with existing Red Tide issues. The majority of companies that do large-scale monoculture fish farms pollute their nearby waters, which is why farming in the gulf has been restricted for decades and is being banned elsewhere in the world. We have an import problem for seafood, yet we still need fish for food, and we still need the jobs that the aquaculture industry provides. So how do we reconcile these two seemingly-opposing practices and see Sarasota’s proud fishing history continue?
Agroecology—basing farm systems off of existing ecosystems—is the most environmentally friendly way to do it. By growing filter-feeding fish, shellfish, macroalgaes, sponges, or other cleaning organisms alongside more expensive meat fish, we can clean up the water at the same time as we farm. If we have a Red Tide problem due to warm waters and nutrients that algae love, why not grow tasty algae to enjoy with our sushi? Through an aquatic agroecology project with Mote Marine Laboratories, Sarasota could take the national spotlight for sustainable aquaculture. Imagine cleaning up the bay by farming a variety of edible sea life, some of which could be sold to the pet trade or aquariums (another billion dollar industry).
It is my view and that of my company, Stocking Savvy, that the project as it stands should not move forward as the first in the gulf. Rather, we should expand it to a larger pilot program, incorporate more cleaning organisms with marketable value and show how innovative Sarasota can really be. Kampachi Farms is an excellent company with experience raising these organisms, but has not proposed doing that here. I’m sure we’d all love fresh seafood and a cleaner bay, and we should work with the industry to achieve both of those goals, make money, and support Sarasota's unique ecology. Let’s show the world that green aquaculture and fiscal responsibility go hand in hand.
Written by Sean Patton, Founder of Stocking Savvy.
For more information check out: https://www.yourobserver.com/article/residents-weigh-in-on-proposed-fish-farm-off-sarasota-coast
Sean Patton is a wetland biologist and environmental consultant serving Sarasota and Manatee counties. He has written and defended an Honors Thesis at New College of Florida, and continues to do independent research to better understand Florida's ecosystems and provide the most specialized consultations possible. He has presented at the Environmental Summit and many other locations on his research; Multimodal Biological Control which is the selective stocking of native organisms to target and control nuisance organisms.