Alternative, Non-plastic Materials for Aquaculture and Oyster Cultivation

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2021: $14,979.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2021
Grant Recipient: Greenhorns
Region: Northeast
State: Maine
Project Leader:
Alex Plowden
The Greenhorns

Information Products


  • Additional Plants: other
  • Animals: shellfish


  • Animal Production: aquaculture
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity

    Proposal summary:

    We strive to identify durable, inexpensive, ecologically friendly materials for aquaculture systems, especially oyster cultivation. At the most basic level, our goal is figure out which materials are the best for the job - in performance, supply, and durability, and that meet our ecological goals - and further to generate data and information so other aquaculturists can adopt, adapt, and continue our work. 


    Oceanic plastics present a major environmental concern, and the use of plastics in modern aquaculture contribute to this problem: lost gear and degraded plastics from conventional materials damage habitat and decrease water quality. There is also no established best practice for aquaculture that does not involve use of plastic gear, nor is there any market or financial incentive to venture into non-plastic aquaculture where no identified solution exists. 


    We plan to undertake comprehensive investigation of available, experimental and applicable bio-materials  that we could use for floating our cages and seaweed lines. We will collaborate with materials scientists, design labs, ecological building materials companies and our community to pioneer alternative gear approaches and application  for our farms in Maine. In time, we believe this research will lead to greater standardization of best practices for low-pollutant aquaculture, increasing the viability of non-plastic gear by incentivizing their use through certification, low-input technologies, and high-quality products.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    This project seeks to:


    1. Identify and obtain an assortment of materials to test in the design and construction of plastic-free aquaculture gear. 
    2. Select two to three high-performing materials and designs to scale-up testing to a small commercial operation in the 2021 growing season.
    3. Conduct in situ side-by-side performance comparison with commercially available plastic oyster grow-out surface bags and ropes.
    4. Record biotic and abiotic parameters along with gear status bi-monthly to determine efficacy of alternative gear.
    5. Analyze data and gear performance at project conclusion. Disseminate results in a user-friendly format.
    6. Report results and potential of materials at public events held by Greenhorns for public outreach, as well as with local SEAGRANT, Maine Aquaculture Association and East Coast Shellfish Growers Association. 
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.