Friday, August 29, 2014

Sea Grant Exchange Part 2: The South comes North

Gabriela Bradt, Fisheries specialist from New Hampshire Sea Grant and Twyla Herrington, Marine Extension Agent from Louisiana Sea Grant spent five days together in July completing the final leg of  an exchange program that they initiated back in March.  Louisiana Sea Grant has published a news article about the Exchange which you can find here, but below you will find some more details about what these friends and colleagues experienced together.

 Map of the New England leg of the Sea Grant Exchange. The Exchange began in Durham, NH on July 21 and ended in Walpole, ME on July 28th.


            I have been excitedly anticipating the second leg of the NH-LA Sea Grant Exchange and now it has come and gone! Twyla Herrington and I managed to log approximately 1,200 miles (not including the flight from New Orleans to Bangor!) and connected with 5 of our Maine and New Hampshire Sea Grant colleagues. We learned, talked and experienced so much in 5 days that it is quite overwhelming when we sit down and try to capture it all. Here is a glimpse into what we talked about and did- hold on- it is an incredibly long list: We talked about microplastics, trout and salmon aquaculture, shellfish aquaculture, and seaweeds and we ate pickled seaweed stipes, went on 3 boats, saw fin and minke whales, gray seals, harbor porpoises, kittywakes, loons, went to the eastern-most city in the US, floated on the largest tidal whirlpool in the western hemisphere and may have crossed into Canada while chasing seals!  

We shared ideas and experiences, asked a million questions and had the best colleagues in Maine and in New Hampshire that were willing to take us on boats and give facility tours during their weekend or busy work schedules.  As was my experience during my trip to Louisiana, I am amazed by our colleagues in the Sea Grant network, what they do, how they do it and how willing WE ALL are to learn from each other, exchange ideas and open the doors for collaboration. 

While I will leave the rest of the NE leg recap to Twyla- I will say that not only did I learn more about what our colleagues in Maine are doing, but I also got a good dose of what is happening in my own backyard. Though I am aware and knowledgeable of our growing oyster farming industry here in Great Bay, I have actually never been or seen any of our oyster farmers at work or on their farms.  I have spoken to many of them and know some of the challenges they face but I have not had the opportunity to delve much closer than the periphery. Thanks to this exchange, I have been able to really learn and connect with some of the people I work with and in so doing, I have more ideas about programming, potential research and collaborations.  I CANNOT WAIT for the next exchange opportunity to rear up- maybe I will be a part of it, maybe not- but I think Twyla and I have really shown what we can all do together!


From the land of the frozen people to the land of the sweating people, I am happy to report that the recovery is well under way post- exchange!  Re-entry into Louisiana’s blazing heat and humidity has been a bit trying but it seems as though I will survive.  Last year, sitting in Duluth, when Gabby and I started getting serious about this exchange, I could not have imaged the impact it would have (so very quickly) on even my every day activities as an extension agent.

Day 1:  We spent most of the day getting to know the NH Sea Grant and UNH Cooperative Extension Programs.  Gabby and I spent time exploring the university and discussing projects with her interns and other colleagues.  I was excited to find a connection, right off the bat, with Amanda Parks, an undergraduate at UNH who has been working with Gabby and Erik Chapman on developing an app for finding access to local seafood.  Her work with the NH Fresh and Local Seafood App can directly be applied to our Direct Marketing programs in Louisiana.  Amanda’s recent trip to NOLA led us to a conversation about Slow Food, Slow Fish, and her recent trip out with one of our shrimpers!

Day 2:  We began with a tour of the NH coastline.  Gabby and I made a stop at Jenness beach in Rye, NH for a bit of Marine Debris and microplastics recon.  Gabby’s work along the NH coastline is helping to clean-up and study the effects of  the marine debris problem onshore.  We then headed on to meet up with Michael Chambers, Marine Aquaculture Specialist, at the Judd Gregg Marine Research Complex and Coastal Marine Lab.  Our first order of business was to hop on a boat and make a run out to his net pen aquaculture sites at the mouth of the Piscataqua River.  This project is now part of a Co-op of 7 commercial fishermen (turned temporary fish farmers) from the local area.  The steelhead trout are poly-cultured with seaweed on the sides of the cages and rafts. The result is a system that takes out more nitrogen than it adds.  The pens are used for grow out and the fish go to market for around $14.99/lb.  Let’s keep in mind that Steelhead trout are not indigenous to the NH coastline!  Fascinating concept involving local fishermen support.  Inshore, Michael took us around to see mussel floats and seaweed floats.  We were able to tour the lab and see a variety of other projects, also.  One of my favorites included the use of sea urchins to clean bio-fouling of farmed oysters.  A lengthy lunch followed with continued discussion about multi-use processing facilities for the fishermen.  This work directly overlaps with projects in Louisiana and provided a chance to bounce ideas and make invaluable connections in all of our work. 

We headed out once again for an afternoon visit with Krystin Ward, one of the first pioneers into oyster farming in the Great Bay Estuary, and got a tour of her Oyster Farm.  Oyster farming along the East Coast is carried out very differently from what we see in Louisiana or in South Carolina where I had the opportunity to see a farm during a March 2014 visit with Sea Grant agent Julie Davis.

Day 3:  We found ourselves out to sea on the Atlantic Queen II with Captain Brad and Jen Kennedy, Executive Director of Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation and her crew of interns.  The Atlantic Queen is a recreational fishing vessel by morning and whale watching boat by afternoon.  Blue Ocean works with the vessel as their naturalists, providing outreach and education regarding marine mammals in the areas and they also gather marine debris data on the water.  Gabby and Jen have been partners on the NH Marine Debris to Energy Project for several years, which is how I found myself on a work trip whale watch! We spent 4 hours listening for the blow of a whale and looking for plastics in the swell.  I’d say the trip was a success on both fronts!  Finbacks and minke whales were both kind enough to escort us around for the afternoon.  While onboard, Capt Brad filled me in on some current issues with the NH fishing fleet.  Turns out, their guys are in much the same “boat” with our red snapper commercial fishermen in Louisiana.  Half a country apart and so easy to relate!  The trip wrapped up our NH portion of the Exchange and I headed back to Maine for a few days of recuperation. 

Day 4: Welcome to beautiful Bagaduce River, Maine and the Little Island Oyster Company!  Gabby wasn’t able to join me for this visit but I was accompanied by a local friend with connections in the industry.  Frank & Tonyia Peasley, owners and fishermen, live in the area and farm both tidal and subtidal ranges.  The farm is operated on 5.3 acres along the Bagaduce River just outside of Penobscot, Maine.  The tour allowed me to see both the differences and similarities in the NH oyster farms and Maine oyster farms.  Push back from local residents seemed to be a common issue in both states.  I stood on the dock watching oysters being sorted and cleaned, listening to Tonyia explain the ups and downs of being an oyster farmer, while slurping these tasty treats out of one freshly shucked shell after another. 

Day 5: “Eastport and Franklin and on to Camden, Maine with Chris Bartlett and Sarah Redmond.”  Gabby and I started the day off by meeting up with Chris Bartlett in Eastport, Maine.  Chris lives so far north that even our cell phones thought we were in Canada!  My best description for Chris’s work would have to be “dramatic”.  Everything just seems larger from the whirlpools to the marine mammals to the size of his salmon farm operations.  Chris took us around Pasamaquoddy Bay via boat to get a first hand look at the area and the fishing communities.  We took a little time to drift in the Old Sow whirlpool and do a bit of whale watching in the area.  Minke whales and both harbor and gray seals popped up to say Hi. 

Chris is currently working on a bird count project in an area where underwater turbines have been proposed.  His work focuses on the scallop industry, lobster fisheries, and salmon farming in the region as well.  We headed down to Franklin, Maine to visit with Sarah Redmond for the afternoon.  Sarah works out of the Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research.  The facility was impressive, to say the least! Sarah is Maine Sea Grant’s resident seaweed guru and she is passionate about spreading the word about the benefits and uses of seaweed- from fertilizer, to food ingredients, even to ingredients for making beer! At CCAR, Sarah showed us where she has most of her seaweed experiments and cultures and explained that she was trying to figure out different ways to culture different species of seaweed from sugar kelp to Grassilaria and Porphyra.  We left Franklin with a jar of Sarah’s own pickled baby kelp stipes which were delicious!

Day 6: On the last day of our exchange, Gabby and I hit the windy coastal road headed for Darling Marine Lab and Dana Morse, Maine Sea Grant agent for the Walpole area.  Dana spent the morning showing us around the lab and discussing some of the projects he focuses on in the region.  Eco-Tourism and aquaculture were resounding words during our day with Dana and link directly with the type of work both Gabby and I are doing in New Hampshire and Louisiana.  The concept of “Oyster Gardening” has been a hit with the local residents of the Walpole area.  Their group uses the program to train individuals on proper oyster growing techniques over a two-year period.  The graduates have gone on to develop their own “gardens” together, also.  We ended the day with a lunch in town and Gabby and out I set out on our southern and northern treks back for the night.  The exchange had proven itself to be invaluable with the discussions and hands on experiences.  Research projects have been developed, workshops have been planned, and a future for the Exchange program has hopefully been written in stone. 

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