Bren Smith

Ashoka Fellow
New Haven, CT, United States, North America
Fellow Since 2015
My work: Building a blue-green economy centered on a 3D ocean farm that will restore oceans and re-invent fishing.

Citation

This profile was prepared when Bren Smith was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2015.
The New Idea
Bren Smith is building a blue-green economy that will restore oceans, mitigate climate change and re-invent the fishing profession. Over the past 12 years, Bren has created the world’s first multi-species 3D ocean farms centered on kelp, one of the world’s fastest growing plants and also the most carbon absorbing. This new model moves from growing vulnerable monocultures to vibrant ecosystems, which work to re-build biodiversity and produce higher yields. The infrastructure is simple: seaweed, scallops and mussels grow on floating ropes, stacked above oyster and clam cages below. The farm model has the capacity to grow 20 tons of sea vegetables and 500,000 shellfish on each acre per year with zero inputs. In turn, these crops produce food, fertilizers, animal feeds, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, biofuels and much more.

Importantly, the farms restore, rather than deplete, the ocean ecosystems. Oysters, mussels and other shellfish filter nitrogen out of the water column while their cages act as a buffer from storm surges. With a single oyster filtering up to fifty gallons of water a day, even small farms can have measurable impacts on water quality. Some farms are in heavily polluted waters with the intention not of food production but the rehabilitation of the water. The reduction in nitrogen pollution prevents the establishment of dead zones and acres of seaweed act as a massive carbon sequestration blanket (kelp absorbs five times more carbon that of land-based plants). Meanwhile, the farms create a natural reef system that enables hundreds of wild species to thrive.

A lifelong fisherman, Bren is also sensitive to the slow decline of his profession. His innovative farming model provides fishermen caught in a dying industry with a new role as “climate change farmers” who build and nurture an entire eco-system for a growing market – including food, fertilizers, animal feeds, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, biofuels and more. With 3D ocean farming at the center, Bren seeks to shift the conversation about how we need to save the oceans to a demonstration of how in fact, the oceans can save us.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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