The world’s largest aqua farm
Bermuda, as we are all aware, is one of the smallest countries in the world: only 21 square miles of land set atop a reef, set atop an ancient volcano in the middle of Atlantic. This limits land available for agriculture, especially after housing needs are taken into consideration. But Bermuda has a huge and, to date, underused resource: the ocean.
Our remote location means potential access to 1,566 square miles of territorial sea, and more than 160,000 square miles of an exclusive fishing zone.
Historically, we have used this resource on only an extractive basis — for fishing and as our highway to the rest of the world. But what if we changed our perspective and viewed the ocean as a food production garden?
Technological progress and innovations have made the ocean so much more accessible, available and productive that almost half the seafood we eat comes from aqua farms.
Eighty-five per cent of the world’s marine stocks are either fully exploited or overfished, driving accelerated growth in the farmed seafood industry. With annual revenue in excess of $60 billion, that industry is on the verge of surpassing the total volume of wild-caught product.
Farmed seafood provides an answer to the increasing demand for protein sources as the world’s population becomes more affluent, urbanised and approaches nine billion people in the next 30 years.
In a world increasingly aware of the importance of sustainable food production, aquaculture represents a growth industry. And Bermuda’s ocean garden is one of the largest in the world. How best can we capture the benefits and prosperity from this untapped natural resource? How can Bermuda participate in this expanding industry?
A chamber-commissioned study by Executive MBA students from Cornell and Queen’s universities examined the island’s economic prospects, singling out local food production as a key initiative to explore. The study, overseen by chamber executive director Kendaree Burgess, includes aquaculture as an emerging industry with significant potential.
To date, there have been small forays into this field, with local entrepreneurs growing scallops and seaweed.
But as a jurisdiction that has not entered the industry in a meaningful way, Bermuda has a real opportunity to consider here — particularly if it can do so in a manner that does not raise environmental concerns that have haunted some other types of aquaculture — such as the “Frankenfish” salmon farming that has caused controversy in the past.
Bermuda could position itself at the forefront of sustainable, green and environmentally friendly aquaculture by becoming a testing ground for the newest aquaculture and fisheries technology and management practices.
With its pristine waters, the island is in a prime location to ensure that the initiatives it embraces would be ecologically sound, and to spearhead advances in the methods that are being used.
The advantages and potential presented by this industry are huge.
Bermuda has suffered from not being self-sufficient for its food supply. Aquaculture is a means not only to have access to a wide range of seafood products, but also to allow the island to become an exporter of food, and to provide a significant new income stream.
It would also open a new category of employment opportunities that do not exist at present, encompassing people with a range of education and training: scientists, technicians, support staff and fish farmers.
Trying new activities and being open to initiatives within Bermuda require the creation of an infrastructure — both regulatory and environmental — that encourages entrepreneurship and innovation. Those companies that are already in this space need to be encouraged to establish themselves and take full advantage of our huge underused resource.
The first step would be to draw together the disparate pieces of legislation governing the use of our oceans to create a legal framework allowing Bermuda to both “rent out the ocean” and create and harvest foodstuffs that ocean provides.
We would then need to attract those experts and investors who would be willing to back the vision of turning Bermuda into the world’s largest and finest ocean farm — a vision that Bermuda, surely, is perfectly positioned to achieve.
• John Wight is the president of the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce
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