2. nodarbība

    Lesson 2: Finding the right spot


    This lesson will inspire you to find the best location for your future ocean farm. You need a place where your crops will thrive, but you also want easy access to your plot and the support of the people who live in your area and use the ocean.


    One of the very first things you’ll want to consider when you begin your search for a potential farm site is where commercial ocean farming is allowed. Most European countries have a marine spatial plan (MSP) with zones pre-designated for different types of activities. Specific crops may even be allowed or disallowed in the area, where you plan to set up your farm. Reach out to your Cool Blue Future country facilitator for more information about what is possible and where.


    After you’ve determined where kelp or mussel farming is permitted in your area, then you’ll want to consider how you might access these waters.

    Keep in mind that most types of seaweed, including kelp, are winter crops, and winter can bring with it hard weather and strong winds. Even experienced mariners should take extra safety precautions when venturing out in the winter. Will you be able to safely access your farm in January with the boat you have available? If you get weathered in, do you have a place to find shelter? If you’ll need to hire a boat or barge to help deploy your anchors, is there one in the region of your chosen site?

    You’ll also want to consider the physical proximity of your site to the nearest harbour or port. How much fuel will you burn traveling to and from your site several times a week during the growing season? Calculate this cost and use it as one of your decision-making factors. Traveling time and distance also impact the quality of your harvested material. If you’re considering a remote site, you’ll also need to consider how you’ll maintain the quality of your crops post-harvest. Can you get your kelp to a place to be stabilized within 24 hours? Is it possible to have your mussels or oysters refrigerated when you reach the dock?

    Choosing your site requires balancing selecting an area that will give your crops the best chance to grow with picking a place that isn’t inconvenient to access. If you spend all your time commuting to your site rather than farming it, farm visits can become tedious, and you’ll be less inclined to do them. If it’s easy to check on your site, you’ll be more inspired to perform routine monitoring and maintenance, which will ultimately produce a better product.


    Social license

    As you start to narrow in on a specific site, it’s critical to consider the social and cultural context of that location. Who lives or works nearby and uses the surrounding waters for recreation, industry, or subsistence? How will your farm impact those activities?

    When you farm the ocean, you’re operating in the public commons. Because of this, ocean farms are held to a high standard and asked to demonstrate that farming activities will not negatively impact shared marine and coastal resources.

    The more you can do to minimize the potential negative impacts of your farm—such as reducing visual and noise nuisance, clearly marking site boundaries in popular boating areas, and just generally being a good neighbour—the more public support there will be for your farm and the industry as a whole. This is sometimes referred to as social license to operate and is an intangible and valuable asset for any ocean farmer.

    Some of the potential conflicts you can identify on a map, but most you learn by talking to people and spending time on and around your prospective site. Some farmers find they face a steep, uphill battle of convincing nearby homeowners to support their plans, while others receive broad community support. The more you can do to ease the concerns of different stakeholders early on, the easier your permitting—and, ultimately, farming—journey will be.

    We strongly suggest proactively reaching out to all local stakeholders well in advance of selecting a site or sending in applications. A possibility is to host a citizen’s assembly where you can communicate the benefits your project. You need to hear all voices and will most likely find that by inviting your community to take part in your project from the earliest stages will establish local support and create understanding for what you are trying to accomplish. If you’re facing staunch resistance from a community group and your outreach efforts aren’t well-received, it may be worth considering a different site.


    Environmental factors

    Finally, you’ll want to pay attention to the biophysical characteristics of your site— the natural elements that make it unique. You can work to form new markets and resolve potential conflicts with your neighbours, but if your crops don’t grow well on the site you’ve selected, your business may be doomed from the start. You’re looking for a site that has the right depth, current, salinity, and nutrients for your crops to thrive.

    Some of the guesswork of environmental suitability can be determined through site visits and observations. For example, when you first begin searching for prospective sites, see if you can identify wild beds of the species you intend to cultivate growing naturally nearby. If wild kelp is growing in the area, it’s a good indication that farmed kelp should also thrive. Likewise, mussels growing under buoys and on ropes in the area, or large natural mussel banks on the ocean floor, are strong indicators that you will have a fair chance of success with growing mussels. But to get the clearest picture as to whether your site is suitable or not, you’ll need to collect some data. When searching for the ideal site, try to keep the following factors in mind:


    Choose a site

    Now that you’re aware of all the factors you should consider when deciding where to site your farm, you might be wondering how to get all this information and where to start.

    The first thing to keep in mind is that site evaluation is a process. It’s not uncommon for people to dramatically change their minds about what they’re looking for once they start evaluating the specifics. You’re probably not going to find the perfect location right off the bat, and you might have to go back to the drawing board several times. Going through this process takes time and persistence; patience and organization are key. We recommend the following steps for collecting the information you’ll need to ultimately make your choice.

    Identify 2-3 sites

    To begin, we recommend you start by going back to the basics: roll out a few marine charts or poke around on Google Maps. Start to identify which areas, generally, might be worth investigating in more detail. If you have a boat or a skiff, take it out for a scoping tour. Remember, when considering access, you’re thinking about the proximity to the nearest port and the cost, feasibility, and safety of getting to and from your chosen sites.

    During this initial scoping period, you might also consider the option of purchasing a pre-existing farm. Occasionally, aquatic farms go up for sale as farmers retire or leave the industry. There might be a shellfish or seaweed farmer in your region looking to sell their business and transfer their site lease, which can sometimes help streamline the permitting process. Some kelp farmers have also had luck teaming up with an existing shellfish farmer to farm kelp on a portion of their existing lease.

    Compare options

    Once you’ve identified 2-3 sites where you’re potentially interested in farming, compare them against each other. Evaluate each one on whether it meets the social, cultural, and environmental suitability criteria we outlined before. Consider roughly how much it will cost to travel to and from your farm.

    Every site is unique and will have its own set of pros and cons. Ultimately, you’ll use these factors to help you whittle down the options and narrow in on the one site you believe will best suit your farming goals.

    Use whatever system helps you stay the most organized, so you can objectively compare one location to another. Much of the information you collect during the site evaluation process will also be relevant when you go to apply for your lease and permit. Store this information in one easy-to-reference place to save time later on.

    Research online

    There are many great online resources that can help you gather more information about your prospective sites. Most countries have dedicated mapping tools that use GIS software to overlay different types of information onto an interactive map. Often, you can select and deselect layers to identify other nearby ocean farms, critical habitat areas, and different jurisdiction boundaries. Some tools even have the capacity to display the water depth, salinity, and much more. These tools are often very useful during the permitting process but can also give you a more detailed profile of your prospective sites. We recommend you start with a preliminary, desk-based review to get a sense of some of the basic environmental characteristics of your region. Your Cool Blue Future country facilitator can help you find the online resources you need.

    Talk to people

    There’s a limit to how much you can learn from the internet. Once you’ve done some background research, get out from behind the computer and start talking to people. Look up other seaweed and shellfish farmers in your region and introduce yourself. Ask about their experience farming nearby waters and what challenges they’ve faced. Speak with local fishermen who travel through the area and know the waters well. Try and talk to as many people as possible. Be open and honest about your plans, but also humble—when you’re first starting out, the learning curve will probably be steeper than you expect. Making friends with your neighbours and fellow farmers will go a long way.

    Spend time on-site

    And, of course, the most important step in the site evaluation process is to get out there and spend time on the water! Just journeying to your prospective farm sites will give you a sense of how far they are from your house or harbour and how much fuel you’d burn accessing your farm for routine maintenance and monitoring. If possible, try to visit in different seasons, times of day, and stages of the tide. Notice how the water looks and feels in both good and bad weather. Is your site in sun or shadow for most of the day? Is it sheltered or exposed to common winter winds? The more information you can gather at this point, the better.

    While you’re out exploring in the field, it’s also a good idea to verify some of the information you found recorded elsewhere. Check to see if the charted depths of your site are the same as what you’re reading on your depth sounder. When you cut the engine on your boat, do you move swiftly or stand still? Can you tell if there is a lot of water turnover or whether flow is rather stagnant? Is there kelp or mussels growing nearby? Obviously, all these observations should be placed in the context of the particular stage of tide and weather conditions, but jot down your observations to reference later on.

    In addition to your observations, a few quick water quality measurements can help you determine whether you’re in the right ballpark for farming. Recording the sea surface temperature, water clarity depth, and salinity will give you some objective data to compare later and include in your lease and permit applications. Keep in mind, though, that the ocean is dynamic and the conditions you observed will likely change over time with the seasons, tide cycle, runoff, etc. But even one or two quick measurements can sometimes help you rule out a site early on.

    By the time you’ve finished compiling and comparing all these different factors, you’ll not only have a much better understanding of the marine environment in your local area, but hopefully also a much better sense of what you’re looking for in a farm site. Remember, site evaluation is an iterative process. Don’t get discouraged if something you discover along the way causes you to scratch your original plans and start searching anew. Eventually, if all goes well, you’ll narrow in on the location you want and be ready to move forward with farm design.