Setting out early on a July morning, a group of kayakers and paddle boarders were the first to participate in a new program spearheaded by UConn Extension, an aquaculture farmer, and a local tourism company.
If you are not sure what aquaculture is, this tour may be for you.
The program is aimed at engaging the public in learning about aquaculture while simultaneously diversifying offerings by local businesses and farmers, says Tessa Getchis, senior extension educator for UConn Extension and Sea Grant.
While on tour, participants go out on the water, meet a farmer, learn about their operation, ask questions, and even sample some of the harvest. Ecotours like this one give participants an opportunity to meet the farmers cultivating their food.
“What we have found is that when the connection between the farmers and their communities has been made, and conversations have taken place, it helps shoreline residents understand what aquaculture is,” says Getchis.
The Connecticut coastline hosts a growing aquaculture industry where Getchis and her colleague, Anoushka Concepcion, work with farmers of oysters, clams, fish, and seaweeds, both in the Long Island Sound and in land-based systems.
Concepcion notes that growing seafood here can be a challenge because aquaculture competes with so many other uses for space in the coastal zone. More than 90% of the seafood that we consume in the U.S. is imported, says Getchis, adding that opportunities to diversify the economy like this one are beneficial for the aquaculture producers and ecotourism businesses.
The idea for this tour was hatched after Getchis met the owner of an ecotourism company based in Mystic who was interested in diversifying the types of ventures his company offered. Realizing the opportunity, Getchis connected the owner with a nearby farmer.
“For aquaculture, the public is not always used to seeing the gear,” says Getchis. “What we are doing is partnering with shoreline communities to show them what aquaculture looks like and part of that is to get people out on the water to see the farms.”
Concepcion, an assistant aquaculture extension educator-in-residence, and Getchis hope this program will help inspire other communities to support local businesses and their local aquaculture farmers.