Author: Rachel Lyn Rumson

Envisioning a Blue Environmental Economy

Envisioning a Blue Environmental Economy

The waters of Maine are central to life here and have been so for tens of thousands of years. It is a safe bet that these waters will be essential for future generations to thrive here as well.

Our mission at rbouvier consulting is to help expand society’s definition of “value” to include all aspects of value, including economic, environmental, and social. Recently, we have been thinking about aquaculture and its economic value. The limiting way that aquaculture is defined misses the wider value of aquaculture to our ecosystem and to future generations.

Limitations of definitions currently guiding policy

The Maine Department of Economic and Community Development and generally every official organization touching aquaculture today are focusing on the value of raising organisms for human consumption. Both the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) tout aquaculture’s “efficiency” and its “development to meet demand” for food.[1] [2] Both the Maine Aquaculture Association and the Maine Legislature focus on mariculture only.[3] The Department of Environmental Protection, who are in charge of permitting aquaculture systems, has the most expansive definition:

“Aquaculture is the culture, or husbandry, of marine or freshwater plants or animals. Aquaculture is undertaken in both freshwater and marine systems in a variety of ways, including in: raceways or flow-through systems, ponds, recirculating systems, floating or submersible net pens or cages, and bag, rack, suspended or longline culture.” [4]

We miss some interesting and dynamic environmental applications as well as some of the indirect economic and social benefits if we rely on these definitions. In these well-meaning definitions, we see how they frame value and benefit in a limited way.

For example, in the economic and environmental landscape, there may be more consumers of organisms raised in aquaculture systems than humans, and broader benefit. A recent study out of University of New Hampshire reveals that farmers of cattle are beginning to use seaweed to some nutritional and medicinal benefit.[5]

Another example of limited value estimation is in the production for consumption model itself. Consider Maine’s fish stocking program, which demonstrates how economic benefit goes beyond production solely for human consumption models.[6] The program has economic value that is not measured in terms of consumption of food, but in terms of achieving or maintaining ecological balance. In this aquaculture model, the value is not only in the production of experiences for anglers, measured in the sales of licenses, but also indirectly by the ecosystem services that the fish provide. (Side note: In the case of the inland fishery model, there is no restoration aquaculture to restore habitat for fish to spawn in, which would allow them to regenerate naturally.)

If we continue to design business-as-usual models for aquaculture with a narrow “economic” lens, we may be missing some social or environmental costs, or leaving innovative applications off the table that could reduce costs. Therefore, our working definition of aquaculture includes mariculture (fin fish, shellfish and sea vegetable farms in the ocean), inland hatcheries (fish culture stations), floating islands (for water quality restoration and habitat), eco-machines (aerobic bio digestion of wastewater), and marine permaculture arrays.

"Floating Bog" by ✿Low✿ is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Three aquaculture models that warrant a closer look.

Current policy is not supporting three aquaculture models in Maine that present some interesting value propositions for the environment, for the economy and social good.

>Floating Islands

The basic concept of floating islands is mimicry of naturally occurring floating bogs as an intervention in water quality. These aquaculture systems reduce algae, improve dissolved oxygen, and increase habitat.[7] As an aqua-scaping model for restoring biological diversity in surface water and marine areas, floating islands can be aerated, or not, depending on site conditions and design goals. There are several metrics that could be assessed for ecological services from invertebrate populations, to phosphorus parts per million, to water clarity, to temperature and also wildlife habitat creation. The benefits of these systems socially could be measured in property values maintained, and thus tax base stability, or shifts in funding needed to maintain restocking programs. The ecosystem services provided by these islands  in dude  habitat provision, pollution filtration, and nutrient cycling,  among others. In spite of a successful EPA project in Pennsylvania at Lake Lucerne, this aquaculture application is not currently permitted in Maine.[8]


"File:Berea College 070308 Ecomachine DB (20062583514).jpg" by IMCBerea College is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Eco-Machines are another success story that is out of frame with current definitions. These aquaculture systems are living water treatment plants that are also botanical gardens and fin fish farms.[9] There are many examples of these.[10] The model utilizes a series of ecological analogs, and is purported to be less costly than sewer treatment infrastructure and processing. It uses less resources and produces less waste (sludge) than conventional sanitation works, and creates a beautiful community center or educational laboratory. When municipalities and counties are considering high-density development, Eco-machines are a practical solution for wastewater that is not currently being considered.

>Marine Permaculture Arrays

Climate change is warming the oceans which is threatening to seaweed farms and fisheries world-wide. Offshore Marine Permaculture Arrays (MPA) establish kelp forests for the blue economy and for climate adaptation. Dr Brian Von Herzen at the Climate Foundation has pioneered ocean permaculture with the help of the Australian government.[11] His team is cycling cooler, nutrient-rich waters from 500 meters to surface farms, increasing yield of valuable sea vegetables as compared to shore farm production.[12] The current upwell mechanism is the game changer. What they are finding is the regeneration of plankton populations, increases in plant growth, restoration of natural fisheries with increased biodiversity, and aquaculture resilience in the face of tropical storms that devastated shore-zone farms. They have also reversed coral reef bleaching using the wave pump technology.[13] The carbon sequestration benefit of this application is a measurable value. It is an order of magnitude above other approaches to carbon management, such as selling offsets, because 90% of the carbon is in the oceans already, MPAs are transforming it into an embodied form.

These examples make it clear that a relatively small change – expanding our definition of aquaculture to go beyond the production of food for human consumption – can lead to sorely needed innovation and expanding concepts of value. Please contact us if you’d like to know more.

Photo Credits:

Aquaculture” by NOAA’s National Ocean Service is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Floating Bog” by ✿Low✿ is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

File:Berea College 070308 Ecomachine DB (20062583514).jpg” by IMCBerea College is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

[1] NOAA defines aquaculture as “the breeding, rearing, and harvesting of animals and plants in all types of water environments—is one of the most resource-efficient ways to produce protein.” (

[2] USDA defines aquaculture as “the production of aquatic organisms under controlled conditions throughout part or all their lifecycle. Its development can help meet future food needs and ease burdens on natural resources.”(USDA,

[3] MMA defines aquaculture as “the farming of aquatic species for human consumption and use. Aquaculturists, or aquatic farmers, grow finfish, shellfish, aquatic plants, and other organisms” (


[5] In the feed, the sea vegetables apparently relieve gastrointestinal distress in cows. While great for the farms economically due to veterinary costs, there is potential for reduction in methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas that climate resilience protagonists would love to measure. UNH Today – Maine Farmers Receptive to Seaweed Feed: Survey highlights receptiveness of organic dairy farmers to feeding methane-reducing feeds – April 4 2024 (

[6] The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) currently operates eight fish hatcheries and rearing stations, also referred to collectively as “fish culture stations” ( This program is a “biological maintenance program to supplement natural reproduction” of fish “where there isn’t a suitable spawning and nursery habitat, or when there’s an overwhelming presence of predator or competitor fish” (MDIFW).


[8] Floating Island Improve Water Quality Lake: Stories of Progress in Achieving Healthy Waters (JULY 14, 2023)




[12] Marine permaculture: Design principles for productive seascapes (

[13] Ocean Permaculture with Brian von Herzen (

Are there enough minerals in the world for a total transition to an alternative energy system?

Are there enough minerals in the world for a total transition to an alternative energy system?

There’s an ongoing debate concerning the availability of minerals needed for a full transition to alternative energy sources. This conversation involves factors such as the Earth’s resource capacity, energy return on investment (EROI) for various energy technologies, technological advancements, and the practicality of shifting away from fossil fuels.

Many discussions have raised concerns about the adequacy of critical minerals required for renewable energy technologies like solar panels, wind turbines, and electric vehicle (EV) batteries. These technologies rely on materials such as rare earth elements, lithium, and cobalt, which might not be as abundant as more common resources. However, advancements in technology and improved recycling methods are being considered to address these concerns.

Recently, I have been reading about energy return on investment and energy flows in the current system (Brockway, 2019 and Barnard, 2023). Energy return on energy invested (EROI) is a calculation that experts use to try to answer questions about transitioning the energy system. EROI tells us the proportion of return on investment for producing energy and this can be then compared to the percentage that is used in the system and the investment needed to use it. Unfortunately, some methodologies for calculating EROI focus on the production side and compare energy source to source. These experts claim that since the EROI on oil is so much higher than for renewables, transition would be impossible from a sheer energy perspective. Other experts have begun to look at energy flows through the system, factoring wasted energy into the equation. These experts are saying that renewable energy produces  such little waste that the EROI is comparable with oil after factoring in efficiency (Brockway, 2019). Still others are saying that as the cost of extracting and processing the finite resource rises the transition to renewables is inevitable (Barnard 2023). 

A diagram of a energy consumption

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Energy is often viewed as the economy is, as a supply and demand equation. After all, the economy is largely a story of energy inputs and outputs. On the supply side, people pay for energy produced and delivered with utilities accounts. This view is loaded with assumptions and hides energy waste out of view entirely. As a result, consumers pay for the lost 65% of energy generated in the delivery fees along with grid maintenance costs!With the supply side getting most of the attention we can easily stop imagining a brighter future with a thriving economy for our descendants.

However, the demand side of the equation is simply the wattage hours, rather than the cost of wattage hour. The wattage hours metered, the gallons pumped, or cordage dropped represents the demand side of the equation. A recent article by Micheal Barnard, for example, says that, “The primary energy fallacy is the assumption that all the energy, in all of the oil, gas and coal that we burn today must be replaced. We don’t need to replace it, we need to replace the unwasted energy services.” (Barnard, 2023). And that is less by a factor of two-thirds! Viewing it from this perspective suddenly seems much more doable.

The technologies are developing rapidly, for storage especially, but the intermittency of renewable energy is still a challenge to be met. The scale of that challenge, however, is less ominous than I thought. If we are building that new system for energy actually used and not comparing sources solely on the basis of production ROI, the future looks brighter. While concerns about mineral availability and EROI are well founded, ongoing developments suggest that a complete transition to an alternative energy system is plausible. This transition will likely require a combination of technological advancements, efficient energy utilization, and a shift in focus from energy replacement to maximizing energy services while reducing waste.

By Rachel Lyn Rumson


Barnard, M. (2023, February 13). Why Aren’t Energy Flows Diagrams Used More To Inform Decarbonization? CleanTechnica.

SKAGEN Fondene (Director). (2023, January 16). Mark Mills: The energy transition delusion: inescapable mineral realities.

Brockway, P. E., Owen, A., Brand-Correa, L. I., & Hardt, L. (2019). Estimation of global final-stage energy-return-on-investment for fossil fuels with comparison to renewable energy sources. Nature Energy, 4(7), Article 7.

What is a Regenerative Economy?

What is a Regenerative Economy?

Does it mean biological means of production? While regenerative farmers are talking about high yields with no-till methods and soil biodiversity, some economists are talking about “a new vision for prosperity” that leaves behind the “rational man” of neo-classical economics for a new model of participation and dignity, one that meets the social needs of everyone while operating within the ecological limits of the planet. 

One of the most prominent voices for a regenerative economy is Kate Raworth, author of Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think like a 21st  Century Economist. Raworth recently spoke at Schumacher Center for New Economics on the topic of Planetary Economics: New Tools for Local Transformation. In her talk last November to a record-breaking number of attendees for the Institute, Raworth suggested that transformation of the economy to save the planet is imperative and that the innovation we need is going to come from that bottom-up and be local. She is offering the Doughnut model as a guide and has launched the Doughnut Economics Action Lab as a collaborative toolbox for local economic renewal and participatory climate action.

The basic theory on Doughnut Economics focuses on a thriving future that emerges from balancing the ecological ceiling and the social foundation. The model has been adopted by over 40 cities and regions including Philadelphia, Amsterdam, Leeds, Barcelona, Mexico City, and Toronto. Place-based administrations and community coalitions around the world are using it as a way to reimagine and recreate the future in balance.

Raworth suggests that through multiple crises, humanity is awakening to an awareness of our profound interconnectedness with the living systems of Earth, and each other. Raworth’s idea for a regenerative and distributive economic reality is interesting. The framework borrows from the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals to define the social foundation as the essential of life. The outside of the doughnut are the planetary boundaries defined by Roskstrom et al (2009). The planetary boundaries are what keeps life working on Earth. Raworth compares her doughnut to the dynamic circles of various Indigenous cultures around the world symbolizing health and wellbeing. She says that she is coming to see the doughnut as a “Western economic mindset recovery program”.  

We are paying attention to Doughnut economics because of the way that it embeds the economy within society and within the environment.

What does this mean for our clients and colleagues? We think that the model is useful as a holistic view for municipalities, civic organizations, businesses, trusts and finance. Whichever sector you are in, whether you’re in the visioning stage, looking for participatory tools for engagement or need just-in-time research or local impact analysis, we can help. Our consultants will partner with you to help you learn about the challenges of the changing world. 

Here are the eco-social and inventories areas of the doughnut. Contact us to learn more about the Doughnut or any of these parameters. Let us know if you are working on a Portrait of Place.

Ecological ParametersSocial Parameters
climate crisismobility / transportation 
load on the soilcommunity and connectedness
freshwater consumptionsocial participation and equality
loss of biodiversityhousing and energy
greenhouse gas emissionshealth and education
waste production, pollutionfood and water
deforestation and land use changework and income
air pollutionculture
peace and justice
political participation

Blog post is by Rachel Lyn Rumson


Rockström, J., Steffen, W., Noone, K. et al. A safe operating space for humanity. Nature 461, 472–475 (2009).