Bren Smith: Fishing to Feed the World
"We don't use fertilizers, we don't use antibiotics, we don't use pesticides," says Bren Smith, the founder of GreenWave and owner of a 20-acre, fully sustainable seafood farm off the coast of Connecticut. "I don't even have to feed my stock anything." He calls his method 3D ocean farming, and it involves a system of underwater ropes and hurricane-proof anchors that hold huge harvests of kelp, mussels, scallops and oysters. One acre can produce 250,000 shellfish and 10 tons of kelp, a crop Smith is particularly excited about. "Kelp is like a gateway drug," he says, noting there are possibly thousands of other edible sea plants, many of them with more calcium than milk and more protein than red meat. Kelp can also be used in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, fertilizers, livestock feed and biofuel, all while converting tremendous amounts of CO2 into oxygen. "If you covered six percent of the ocean with our farms, you could feed the world and capture all of man's carbon," Smith offers.
He turned to aquaculture in the 1990s, as the North Atlantic cod stock crashed. Organized seafood farming was supposed to be the answer to overfishing, but Smith discovered it was merely another way of abusing the seas – polluting coastal waterways with pesticides and pumping fish full of antibiotics. "We were growing neither fish nor food," Smith wrote. "We were running the equivalent of Iowa pig farms at sea."
After his oyster farm on Long Island Sound was destroyed by hurricanes, Smith redesigned his infrastructure – growing larvae in tanks on land and then transferring them to "sea socks." The breakthrough has attracted a growing number of corporate partners, like Google and Patagonia, and hundreds of applicants to GreenWave's 3D ocean-farm development program, which guarantees purchase of 80 percent of crops from new farmers for the first five years. "We have requests to start farms in every coastal state, and 20 countries," says Smith – more applicants than it can handle at the moment. By next year, there will be 25 farms in the GreenWave network, including two in California, and the company is in talks about establishing farms in Denmark. "The idea is to actually revive the ocean through our farming methods," says Smith, "and make this as affordable as possible for farmers to do themselves – meaning minimal skills and minimal capital costs." And, perhaps most important, putting people to work in a job they can feel good about. "To pit working-class people against environmentalists is the biggest trick," says Smith. "Everyday people can farm the ocean. It's a job that gives people agency and the fulfillment of growing food, while helping to solve some of our world's biggest challenges: climate change and food insecurity." JN