Aquaculture in NC: North Carolina Aquaculture Development Conference

This past Friday on the banks of the Neuse in New Bern, NC, people interested in aquaculture in the region gathered to discuss the future. The group packed the ballroom in the Hilton with scientists, extension agents, interested citizens, and of course – producers. The afternoon before some attendees had the chance to visit farms in the area firsthand, one of which I’ve previously written about (White Rock Fish Farm). Friday held talks on the science, economics, and policies of aquaculture. Saturday morning wrapped up with freshwater and saltwater workshops tackling the details of growing fish. Parallel to the whole event was a trade show exhibiting the myriad food options available, water quality testing technology, cages and nets, greenhouses, and contacts for state programs. Friday night, there was proper celebration of aquaculture in the form of the Aquafood festival showcasing products from around the state. Take home message from the event? I left wanting to put a tank in my small Beaufort yard alongside the goats, chickens, and vegetable garden.

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Aquaculture in North Carolina: White Rock Fish Farm

“It’s a mom and pop operation, you could say”, described Ted Davis, owner of White Rock Fish Farm in Vanceboro NC. His smile extended ear to ear as he talked about his farm – and the length he goes to ensure his fish are never stressed on their way to the market. The trick? The farm’s small size – 8 ponds – allow the fish to be harvested by hand, each one receiving individual attention on their way to a shipping container. Another thing that makes his farm special? The hybrid striped bass have personality. They’re scared of tractors, eat more when there’s algae in their pond, and elicit hugs from visiting children.

Mr. Davis takes a whole day, with a helper, in harvesting his hybrid striped bass before they begin their frozen journey to Canada. Other growers, including his neighbors down the road, will spend just hours handling even more fish. Hybrid striped bass, however, bleed when they’re stressed. This turns their flesh and fins red, muddling the prized stripes for the marketplace. Plus, stressed fish release stress hormones and other chemicals that consumers can taste. So the White Rock way is to remove as much stress from the fish’s life as possible. Read More

Core Themes of 2012: Challenging the Conventional Narrative

Isaac Newton, after experiencing the bottom end of a falling apple, used that experience to formulate the theory of gravity. The inductive process Newton used is common to the goals of most scientific endeavors and a deeply ingrained part of the human psyche. As humans, we love to generalize. It helps us understand the world around us by categorizing parts of it and explaining natural dynamics by the “laws of nature”. We also stereotype each other by race, hometown, or favorite basketball team. Some would say these tendencies help us prepare – to predict and expect the logical outcome of the set of clues presented in our everyday lives. But just like the reasons your mother told you not to stereotype, sometimes nature has its own surprises that defy prediction, categorization, or law-following. Especially if you don’t quite know what the law is yet.

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Core Themes for 2012: Highlighting the Rural Voice

Oyster shell, photo by author

Imagine the last time you went to an oyster roast – good food, happy friends, and maybe a delicious smelling fire to warm your toes. Someone brought warm homemade crackers. The youngest in the crowd is both delighted and disgusted at the discovery of a lucky oyster crab in the corner of his oyster shell.

Moments like these that help define what sustainability means – a desire for the continued existence of those oyster roasts. That requires healthy estuaries to make oysters every year, careers that keep people in the community, and healthy local farming for trees and agriculture. Moments like these define the word ‘rural’, where residents are dependent on the natural resources they interact with daily for food and livelihood. This could mean life on a farm in one of the most sparsely populated regions of the country or a piece of the rural carved out of an increasingly urbanized landscape. Rural describes an ethic and a way of life more than any particular location.

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Aquaculture in North Carolina: NC State’s Marine Aquaculture Research Center

This year we’re starting a new series highlighting the many faces of aquaculture in eastern North Carolina. From research facilities to new species under domestication to large facilities to feed the masses, there’s a lot going on in the state’s low-lying coast. Periodically, we’ll visit one and bring you pictures and stories from the operation. Stay tuned for more.

The entrance to the MARC facility. Scenic. Photo by Andrew David Thaler

The entrance to the MARC facility. Scenic. Photo by Andrew David Thaler

Tucked on the banks of Sleepy Creek between the two small towns of Marshallberg and Smyrna, NC, a world of new aquaculture ideas grows – NC State’s Marine Aquaculture Research Center.  A single building with large tanks behind emerged from the landscape as we drove down the dirt farm road that connects the property to the main road. Originally planned as a three-building complex, recent budget cuts  felt throughout the state have made the operation smaller – but no less important. The facility houses projects for anyone with an idea for how to forward aquaculture in the 21st century – be they local researchers, students, or people already in the industry. The two major projects happening during our visit are a comparison of hybrid and striped bass feeding efficiencies at a variety of temperatures and continuing development of a waste-management strategy for tank effluent water. There was also a red porgy mating effort and mud minnow spawning setup.

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Bipartisan Fisheries Policy: A Worldwide First

commercial shrimper, photo by author

According to the Washington Post, the US has overcome bipartisan politicking long enough to enact amendments to the Magnusen-Stevens Act that puts all fishery stocks into management – not just those threatened by overfishing. In practice, that means each stock has an absolute maximum catch limit for 2012. Perhaps the most resounding success of this policy is that it actually addresses scientific criticism of current management (covered fairly well by MAST) that implementing catch limits for one species just shifts fishing effort to other species – which then must have yet another species-specific policy put in place after overfishing occurs. Implementing fishery management plans for all fishery species at once eliminates the by-the-seat-of-your-pants feeling that previous US management conjures.

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Fishing on Your Phone: Apps for the Ocean-Savvy

In recent months, I’ve been hearing snippets of conversation about the use of smartphones for lots of things involving fish: guiding seafood choices, fishing identification, even reporting to the state. Most are free, some cost money, and there’s a bunch that haven’t reached the Android market yet (so no review from me). Feel free to add your own reviews, and iPhone users out there – add to the sketch of a review here. Here’s the results of my app playing:

Fish eating:

The Green Seafood Guide

by Lificious Software, cost: free

Start by browsing a list of “highly recommended”, “good choices”, or “to avoid” for either seafood or sushi – or search for a particular species in the search bar. Either the lists or your search results will link you to the appropriate information sheet on the Monterey Bay Aquarium website. The Aquarium facts sheets aren’t exactly smart-phone friendly, so the text comes up small, but it’s manageable. The search left something to be desired, as a search for “clams” offered me just the farmed variety and routed me directly to these fact sheets rather than telling me the basics firts. The app itself is fairly streamlined and straightforward, with just one basic home screen that also boasts a button “What should I eat today”, that from what I can tell provides a random suggestion from the “highly recommended” seafood list. I’m guessing this is an alternative interface to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s more clunky app. Overall, it’s no more helpful than the card the Aquarium puts out, but less easy to lose and offers links to more information should you feel so compelled.

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The Connected Professor

Here at SFS, we seem to have an affinity for cyborgs. I recently had a dream in which I envisioned my future as such a creature. I had aged, achieved a professorship, and was teaching an introductory geography class. Contrary to the current classroom, however, there was not a learned scholar standing in front of pupils transferring information from my brain to theirs through lecture and leading discussions. Instead, there was a flurry of multimedia flying around the room and the “lecture” was really a snippet of a semester-long conversation involving the entire class intended to immerse them in geographic thinking, in and out of class. My thoughts and the in-person conversation was immediately digitized and encoded to be connected to parallel tweets, emails, blogs, and other online content.

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Water Quality in the Era of Small Government

While the Republican presidential candidates threaten to dissolve the Environmental Protection Agency at the federal level, struggles at the state and local levels show building blocks to such an action were stacking for years.

When asked who is primarily responsible for protecting water quality, many citizens in North Carolina respond “don’t we have a department of water quality for that?”. Those citizens are not wrong, but they are placing a large suite of issues on the shoulders of a single agency. And that agency is losing funding and staff.

Defining responsibility for water quality starts with defining the term. As anyone who has thought about water quality and habitat issues knows well, it’s not as simple as dipping a thermometer in a stream to determine water health. Aquatic ecosystems don’t run a fever when there’s something wrong; issues are far more subtle than that.

When asked to define water quality, a leader at the Division of Water Quality (DWQ) who does not want to be quoted by name, stated:

“We try to prevent pollution from affecting our streams and rivers so that we can enjoy them for recreation, we can enjoy them for drinking water purposes, the fish can survive in them … water quality is that which enables all the uses to be continued to be made of those water bodies.”

For the agency in charge of protecting water quality, traditional uses serve as indicators of the water’s health. Note the definition’s focus on pollution prevention as the means to protect these various uses. Read More

The Birth of Sustainability Science

Every once in a while, with predictable regularity, I will encounter a call to be more interdisciplinary in order to fully understand the many aspects of a given issue. The world forgot to compartmentalize its problems for ease of solution. Solutions require scientists to think big and basic at the same time – recent estimates that 7 billion people will roam the planet by the end of this year – and that creates a big demand for resources such as food, water, fuel, and fiber. Ecologists clearly have something to say on the matter and designated 2011’s meeting theme  “Earth Stewardship”, meant as a way to kick off new thinking on research process and connecting research to problem solving.

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