By Emily Vidovich. Emily has a background in environmental journalism and sustainability and is a member of the George Washington University Class of 2019.

Aquaculture is the oceanic counterpart to agriculture—it is the business of cultivating and harvesting aquatic species, including fish, shellfish, and algae, for consumption or commercial use. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization calculates that aquaculture production has risen 527% since 1990, with a majority of yield being finfish. 

Cultivation of mollusks, including shellfish such as mussels, clams, and oysters, only constitutes about 20 percent of current global aquaculture. But shellfish production is gaining popularity due to its sustainability. Because shellfish grow quickly and do not require freshwater, land, or fertilizer, they are one of the most sustainable sources of protein available. At AltaSea’s campus in the Port of Los Angeles, HoldFast Aquaculture is working to develop local shellfish species for aquaculture production. 

One of the mussel-based cuisines developed by HoldFast. Credit: HoldFast Aquaculture.

In collaboration with Santa Barbara Mariculture, HoldFast is developing variations of California blue mussels that are optimal for regional aquaculture operations. The company sells shellfish and algae seed from which farmers can grow mussels, oysters, clams, and various seaweeds. HoldFast also has a research and development arm that forwards sustainable aquaculture through its shellfish breeding program, micro and macro-algae aquaculture, and consulting services to farms and hatcheries. 

Like AltaSea, HoldFast believes in the importance of science education and outreach. To encourage youth engagement in the blue economy, the company offers free presentations and immersive learning experiences to schools as well as job training for the aquaculture industry. Due to its multifaceted approach, HoldFast is considered an industry leader in California sustainable aquaculture—a crucial component of the future blue economy. 

Sustainable shellfish aquaculture not only minimizes environmental degradation, it actually improves the marine environment. Growing shellfish creates a structural habitat for other ocean species, bolstering ocean ecosystems. Shellfish beds also stabilize sediment on the seafloor, protecting shorelines from climate change-fueled erosion. Since they are filter feeders, shellfish clean the water by eating micro-sized contaminants. This process removes toxins and prevents harmful algal blooms. The natural filtration provided by shellfish also removes excess nutrients, such as nitrogen from fertilizer runoff, from the ocean. A 2020 study in Greenwich, Connecticut, valued the nitrogen removal services of aquaculture shellfish at $2.3 to $5.8 million annually.

Mussels growing along the coast. Photo by Peter Secan on Unsplash.

Shellfish production benefits people as well as our planet. Mussels and other shellfish provide various nutrients, vitamins, fatty acids, and minerals essential to a healthy diet. Due to their nutrient-density, rapid maturation, and resiliency against the effects of climate change on their habitat, shellfish are projected to be integral in achieving food security for the swelling human population. 

With this in mind, HoldFast has teamed up with culinary experts to produce diverse and delicious mussel-based products. In doing so, HoldFast hopes to shift the way people think about food and show that shellfish can be both a ubiquitous and refined dietary staple. In this foray, and in all of its work, HoldFast champions its founding belief—that feeding people nutritious food should not come at the expense of the environment.

 

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