When Ryan and Travis Croxton decided to bring back their grandfather's oyster company, it coincided with Chesapeake Bay’s lowest oyster harvest ever.
Their town's once-flourishing industry was collapsing. In fact, things got so bad, their native oyster was almost put on the endangered species list. It was a pretty big dilemma (and inconvenient timing), to say the least. But it only spurred the Croxton cousins' Rappahannock Oyster Company even more to find a solution.
They scoured the internet to see what other countries were doing, how they were producing their seafood. What they found was a more advanced, efficient technique that could help save not just their own business, but Chesapeake Bay's entire oyster industry.
Watch how this amazing journey unfolded right here:
This community of dedicated fishermen is making sure the Chesapeake Bay oyster doesn't end up on the endangered species list.Posted by Upworthy Video on Friday, March 17, 2017
Rather than just gathering what oysters were left, the Croxtons turned to aquaculture, which is basically the farming and harvesting of anything that lives underwater.
Outside of aquaculture, gathering fish and oysters is just about that — gathering. Get, get, get. Fish, fish, fish. You collect as big a bounty as you can and you sell it for top dollar. The problem with that model is it becomes all about how much you can get, leaving little regard for resources.
In contrast, aquaculture is all about those resources. It focuses on creating a sustainable ecosystem where underwater plants and animals can thrive more naturally.
And when it comes down to it, oyster aquaculture can be a boon to both the environment and the economy.
For one thing, oysters are a natural cleaner and they act as an amazing filter for pollutants, such as nitrogen. "During its duration in the water, it's filtering 50 to 60 gallons of water a day," explained Ryan Croxton.
Promoting a habitat and life cycle that allows these oysters to blossom benefits Mother Nature (and our tummies) even more. "The oysters we grow actually increase the population of the wild oysters," added Travis Croxton. "You see underwater vegetation coming back, which provides sanctuary for marine animals."
When it comes to aquaculture and fish, however, the method does have potential downsides. Installing cages to farm the fish is necessary, and building them can damage a coast's natural ecosystem. On top of that, waste can accumulate in these structures and contaminate an area's water supply.
Aquaculture also has the potential to create countless new jobs. In the U.S. alone, aquaculture production hit just over a billion dollars back in 2012. But when you compare it to the $120 billion worldwide industry that it was valued at that same year, you can see there are still many opportunities for growth.
And it's already happening.
When the the Croxtons first started out, only a few businesses were doing aquaculture in their community. Now? Several hundred. "I've increased my workforce by about 30%," said Richard Harding, owner of Purcell’s Seafood Company. "We're a small business in a small community, so every job counts."
The best part? Aquaculture has the potential to improve food access for people all around the world.
A 2015 report by WorldFish shows how fish consumption is rising in developing nations — and future demand worldwide is only expected to increase in the coming decades. This means that aquaculture is going to play a pivotal role in making sure that everyone gets fed.
In fact, by 2030, it's already estimated that two-thirds of the global fish supply will be produced via aquaculture.
So yes, demand, populations, challenges — they're all rising. But, you know what? So is the know-how of the people addressing this issue. "Aquaculture is one of the rare things in this world that is a win-win for everything," added Travis Croxton.
The next time you grab an oyster platter, think about how that little gooey organism is helping change the world. Then, of course, think about how dang delicious it is.