When compared with land farming, larger-scale aquaculture is startlingly young, and both Couturier and Chopin agree that’s an opportunity to learn and do better. Chopin notes that although we have been improving agriculture for centuries, it is still not perfect. So, not surprisingly, aquaculture practices will also take time to evolve towards better environmental sustainability, economic stability and societal acceptability. The so-called Blue Economy needs, in fact, to take a greener approach, something Chopin refers to as the “turquoise economy” and “turquoise revolution.” Tyedmers echos this view. For example, one way companies like Cooke could help fight climate change, he says, would be to immediately switch to feed with a lower carbon footprint. The feed might be more expensive, or the fish might not grow as quickly, or the company might make less money, but it could drastically lower each fish’s carbon footprint. It’s this kind of progressive thinking, he says, that will help us build a food system that can sustain planetary life. “I’m an environmental scholar, not randomly. It’s connected to the same reason why we have one child,” he says. “These are choices we made.” A couple of years ago, looking for a patch of ocean to call their own, Tyedmers and his wife bought a cottage on Big Island, a peninsula in Pictou County, N.S., where they could buy ShanDaph oysters straight from the farm.
A few weeks after Hurricane Fiona hit, after Docker and Nelson got the okay to reopen their site for harvesting, the couple suited their kids up to gather a boxful, donning squeaking rubbery coveralls and tall boots for the wet work. Frigid winds whipped along the bay, heralding the year’s first snow: unlike most land-based farming, theirs is a year-round operation, and oysters are harvested throughout the winter, even once the bay starts to freeze. Docker plunged his hands into the splashing water, pulling up a holding cage full of deep-cupped oysters ready for shucking. Now, with increasingly automated and worker-friendly systems in place — including a flotilla of cylindrical cages that can be mechanically pulled out of the water onto a customized barge for cleaning — he hopes to pass the farm to his kids, giving them a legacy of growing sustainable food like the utopia in Cousteau’s vision. “That’s the ecosystem I see that needs to grow,” says Docker. “The shoreline that’s changing every day, the houses going up, the farms shutting down — that system is so much more of a concern to me than just oysters and finfish.” And when he and Nelson have finished recovering from Fiona, they’ll start planning for the next big storm.