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A man on an emission

28 March 2017

Following his recent nomination for Seaweb’s Seafood Champion Award for Advocacy, Maine oyster farmer Bill Mook speaks to The Fish Site about how shellfish farmers can help prevent continuing ocean acidification and “divert the supertanker” of climate change.

Mook Sea Farms
Drone shot of Mook Sea Farms' oyster beds. Image: Gulf of Maine Research Institute.

Can you tell us a little about Mook Sea Farm and your experience of the aquaculture industry?

Mook Sea Farm is an oyster farm on the Damariscotta River in mid-coast Maine. I started the business in 1985. Our hatchery supplies oyster seed to East Coast growers from North Carolina to Maine. We also hold nearly 40 acres of leases on the river and grow American oysters (C. virginica) to market size. They are sold under several names: Wiley Points, Pemaquids, Mookie Blues, and coming soon, Moondancers. Mook Sea Farm employs 20 people.

How have you been championing sustainability at Mook Seafarms and beyond?

I am not sure that sustainability is the right word. Shellfish farming is generally considered to be not only sustainable, but also to provide environmental services such as nitrogen sequestration and removal. It might be more accurate to say that I am championing the idea that, over the long term, in order to survive and continue sustainably growing shellfish, we all need to address the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions. This includes ocean/coastal acidification. The other message I am trying to convey is that a healthy environment is essential for a sustainable economy.

I am trying to recruit other shellfish farms to this cause. It is my hope that we shellfish farmers at some point in the future can proudly claim to have done our part to divert “the supertanker” from the collision course we are on. I also hope we are successful in convincing every American that it is their patriotic duty to eat 6 oysters each and every day! Maybe we can play a role in defining what it really means to “make America great again”.

IMAGE NAME/DESCRIPTION
Bill Mook

Do you think that some of the lessons you’ve learned through oyster farming in Maine can be applied to other geographic regions/sectors of the aquaculture industry?

Yes. Broadly speaking, one important lesson is that climate change is not an abstract problem facing us in the future, but is real and hurting us now. The direct and indirect effects of warming waters, changing precipitation patterns, sea level rise, and ocean acidification are already taking their toll.

Do you feel the aquaculture industry in general has a good relationship with the mainstream media and, if not, how do you think – for example – the salmon and shrimp sectors could improve this?

We shellfish farmers have to some extent been “collaterally damaged” by the bad press (both justified and unjustified) received by the finfish and shrimp aquaculture sectors. We are working hard to tell our story and it is beginning to be heard.

What have you learnt from your project on modelling how shellfish growers everywhere can address the threat of ocean acidification and how have you managed to translate that message into one that both fellow farmers and policy makers can understand/seek to adopt?

I am not sure “modeling” is the correct term. I think it would be more accurate to say that I am “raising the alarm,” although it is true that I have freely talked about the things we have done, and will do to address ocean acidification (OA). One thing I have learned is that most shellfish farmers who do not run hatcheries don't see OA as an urgent problem. They buy their seed, put it in the water, and it grows. For them, OA is an abstract, future problem. This is why I have shifted my focus to include all of the ways that greenhouse gas emissions are impacting us.

While shellfish farmers are very receptive to the message, I am not sure how successful I have been at getting policymakers on board – at least at a national level. This will require endurance and persistence, and focusing effort at the local and state levels. In another life I was a teacher and learned to convey a message in multiple ways and in simple terms to help insure that it is understood. I also think that, at least in America, small business like mine can play a special role in communicating the reality of human caused climate change and that there is an urgent need to reduce GH gas emissions.

How do you see the aquaculture industry – both in the US and further afield – developing over the next few decades?

I hesitate to predict, but not to hope. My hope is that the aquaculture industry can become leaders (by example) in showing the world how to live in harmony with our planet. That means learning to grow a lot of food for a growing population, while treading lightly on the earth. It also means advocating for a global economy based on clean energy.

How did you react to the announcement that you’d been shortlisted for the award?

I was surprised and honored.

What would it mean for you to win?

My hope is that actually winning the award (and even being a finalist) would/will mean that the message I am trying to communicate will be heard by a broader audience.

 

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