"Somethings change and some things don't." ~ Cap'n Rickey
From MV to Zanzibar
by Jennifer Bender Ferré
Image courtesy of Rick Karney
Zanzibar, an island off the coast of Tanzania in East Africa, may seem an unlikely place for Rick Karney, the MV Shellfish Hatchery’s Director, to be setting up a sustainable aquaculture hatchery. But luckily for the Waswahili who live there, shellfish is a universal language that Rick speaks.
Rick was drawn to Martha’s Vineyard because he felt a sense of place and culture. On both these islands, he sees a biodiversity of culture, that he’s able to relate to in a biodiversity of the natural world. Rick came to the Vineyard to keep the shellfish industry alive, which is why he was tapped by Hauke Kite-Powell, a research specialist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Marine Policy Center, to assist in the development of a project focusing on growing shellfish in Zanzibar.
The premise behind this project named ‘Development of Hatchery-Based Shellfish Production in Zanzibar’ is to a build a shellfish hatchery and to have shellfish become a sustainable protein source in Zanzibar. It is a Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute project that the Island Creek Oyster Foundation (ICOF), McKnight Foundation (MN) and the Friends of Rich Brauman Fund all support financially.
In Stone Town, Zanzibar, Rick (aka ‘Cap’n Rickey’) and his colleagues, including Shore Gregory of the ICOF, are working towards spawning a species called Anadara. It grows in abundance in the tropics all over the world and is native to those waters. However, up until now very little has been known about this species of clam and how to spawn it for aquaculture.
Though there have not been any direct political objections to the program, there have been some challenges. For example, the one power cord that runs from Dar es Salam on the mainland to Zanzibar was shut off or broken, no one really knows, for two and a half months. “We had two week-old seawater and the nearly impossible task of bucketing by hand 300 gallons of water from the harbor with the tide at low water.” Rick recalls. It is hard to run a hatchery without power and water. And, as Shore says, “We figure if we can fine tune what a hatchery looks like in that remote of a setting, the technology could be deployed anywhere.” As Rick explained, “This place [Zanzibar] is a perfect example of how humanity bypasses all of our differences. There is an innovative spirit here that makes one make due, with what you have, not what you don’t have.”
Zanzibar is a place blessed with a climate in which most food plants can be grown year round. Much of its history was built around international trade (including slaves) in agricultural products, especially spices. Today, most of the people living in villages on Zanzibar are engaged in farming or fishing. In a place like this, increasing shellfish production is good for the local food system as well as the local ecosystems.
Around Zanizbar, it is generally women who do the shellfish collecting, whereas the men do the fishing. The initial objective of this project was to increase the average annual per capita income from $300 to $400. Approximately 200 women are now participating.
Whether growing shellfish in the Lagoon in Oak Bluffs or in the waters of Zanzibar, there is a cultural connection to place. It’s a restoration of something that has been lost, a connection from the dinner table to the source, the environment.
It is a regenerative and nourishing approach that celebrates both the land and the sea.
This brings us back to the connection that Rick believes that food is at the center of the human experience, and as we eat and grow local, the link becomes part of our consciousness.
“The Zanzibar project exists in its most elemental form. It’s an extraordinary idea that one can go to the land or sea for a regenerative source of protein that puts food in their bellies and dollars in their pockets,” explains Shore Gregory of the ICOF, “I don’t think you can overstate how important that is culturally.”