Sarah Bedolfe
Sarah spends the last month of summer researching aquaculture, but slips away for a weekend of sailing.

I pushed on in my academic endeavors during the summer vacation, like Melissa, and I dedicated August to writing my thesis (more on that below). This made my sailing mini-vacation stand out as especially memorable. My good friend Carolien had invited me to join her family on their beautiful boat, which is built in the traditional style of old Dutch sailing and fishing ships. The day I arrived on board, the sun had just broken through, warming us up for a lovely weekend. Our journey took us across the Wadden Sea to the island of Schiermonnikoog – Schier for short.

Approaching the island of Schier aboard the Lemsteraken Sensatie.

Fancy taking a Dutch sailing excursion? You can! Follow this link to learn more.

Schier is one of the Wadden Islands, part of the archipelago that also includes Texel (where my parasite research took place). Although I sampled on Schier for my first project, I never got to explore beyond our study site. This time, Carolien led me on a guided tour. From the yacht harbor on the Wadden Sea side, we set out on foot across the long narrow island. Within an hour, we had passed through the island’s only town, seen the lovely dune landscape, and reached the beach and the North Sea on the other side.

Schiermonnikoog is quaint from all angles, except when viewed from underwater!
Our snorkel gear gave us a clear view – of why the North Sea isn’t known for great visibility.

A sign identified this as the “Activities Beach.” The grounded boat will be cleared up if you read on,
but I can't provide an explanation for the horse-drawn carriage. 

The trip included one very unusual surprise: when we returned to the boat, we found a harbor devoid of water. All of the boats were grounded, laying flat on the mud. I shouldn’t have been so amazed. From my field work, I know all too well that the Wadden Sea falls dry at low tide – that means the harbor too! This is where the Dutch boat design is essential. The boat’s flat bottom gives it access to shallower water than other vessels its size. And when the water disappears completely, the boat stays level, rather than tipping on its keel. (A catamaran nearby had approached less strategically. Its poor residents must have been disoriented – and unable to set down any plates and glasses – until the next high tide!)

Boats must plan ahead to arrive in their mooring places while the tide is high.
Some intentionally “park”  further away, so if anyone wants to disembark
before the tide rises, they should be ready for a slog through the mud.

Unfortunately, I had to leave the sailboat and get back to the real world. My thesis addresses the issue of the aquaculture industry being dependent upon resources that come from wild fisheries. This sounds counterintuitive, but in many cases it is true.

Aquaculture is the farming of marine or freshwater species. Countless methods exist and some of these are quite environmentally friendly, but others are extremely damaging. One particular point of controversy is the farming of carnivorous species (such as salmon). While herbivorous fish (such as tilapia), can be grown using algae as feed, carnivores do not grow well on a vegetarian diet. Instead, they are fed diets containing fishmeal and fish oil; these are generally made using wild schooling forage fish caught by industrial fisheries (such as anchovies). Since food is not converted directly into meat, growers have to put in more fish than they get out – maybe three times as much (even that is a huge improvement over some years ago)! Instead of producing more fish for the global food supply, a farm like this is converting a big amount of cheap fish into a small amount of expensive fish. Is it sustainable to catch perfectly edible, entirely nutritious, delicious even (see my herring experience) wild fish, and instead feed them to farm fish?  Many say no.

With fall looming, my brother and I spent a day in Amsterdam with family before he returned stateside. 

This issue is complex, but the news isn’t all bad. Aquaculture is a very young industry, and its rate of improvement has been very fast. Because fish oil is expensive, the industry is economically motivated to reduce its reliance, and there are many potential alternate ingredients available, like soy or algae. Many are not yet accessible or affordable in large quantities today, but the situation is rapidly changing. Still, it’s best to avoid eating farmed carnivores. If you eat seafood, opt for herbivores or highly efficient filter-feeders, which need no added food at all (like mussels and oysters). You can learn more by visiting One World One Ocean’s GoFish! Campaign. For detailed advice on which seafood is the most sustainable choice for you, consult a seafood guide. Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch is a good one; if you’re in the Netherlands, you can use VISwijzer.

With my deadline past, I dove right into my course on “Science and Business.” The arrival of autumn was heralded by a series of rainstorms on the first week of class. The days are suddenly shorter and colder, reminding me exactly why Melissa said lake trout don’t need a calendar. Another thing trout don’t need is raingear. I, however, am not a lake trout. With a busy fall upon me, I plan to rely heavily on both of these to get me through the semester.


Recommended Posts