Monday, January 28, 2013

Fat Dog Shellfish: An Alum's Journey into Sustainable Aquaculture

 By Mac Gostow ’13

Many people think about abandoning their office jobs for a more adventurous life, but few take the steps to make it happen. Jason Baker ’95 is an exception. After 13 years of working out of a Boston-based office, a suggestion from a close friend prompted him to leave his old life behind and found Fat Dog Shellfish, an oyster farm in New Hampshire's Great Bay. With the drive to grow the perfect oyster, and a commitment to promoting an environmentally friendly industry, Jason is putting his Gordon education to use in an interesting, exciting way.

Jason studied biology at Gordon, where he took advantage of the many immersion opportunities offered through his department. “Gordon is where I first cultivated my environmental ethic,” he says. During a summer environmental studies program at the Au Sable Institute in Michigan, Jason's passion for environmentally sustainable practices and industries was solidified.
After graduating, Jason worked as a technician for a wildlife program at Crane Beach in Ipswich. Soon thereafter he acquired an MA in environmental coastal management from Duke University, where he felt Gordon prepared him to compete with his Ivy League peers. Jason went on to serve as Director of the Massachusetts Bay National Estuary Program.

His call to a more venturesome life became apparent when he learned about aquaculture—the farming of aquatic organisms like shellfish. In shellfish Jason finally found a profitable and sustainable industry. Shellfish are filter feeders and pump gallons of water through their tiny gills, removing hazardous phytoplankton that would otherwise disrupt the water column. The waterways along the Eastern Seaboard suffer from overabundance of harmful nutrients like lawn fertilizer, which cause excessive algae blooms and a loss of habitats for many kinds of marine life. By farming shellfish, Jason and Fat Dog Shellfish help clean the coastal waters, preserving marine habitats and allowing for a diversity of species to thrive.

Jason now spends his summer days out on a boat in Great Bay, living a life he only dreamed of in years prior. Fat Dog Shellfish will reap its first crop this summer, selling the harvest to wholesale chains, local restaurants and friends. He seeks to expand Fat Dog in the near future; he would like to broaden the company's species diversity to include seaweed and clams, and he hopes to provide immersive summer internships to Gordon students interested in marine biology. Jason reflects on his career change with excitement and a renewed vitality: “I made the move from cube jockey to a farmer, and it has made all the difference.”

Photo: Jason Baker ’95 grows oysters in New Hampshire's Great Bay with his company, Fat Dog Shellfish.

Mac Gostow ’13 is a communication arts major from California and a student writer in the Office of College Communications at Gordon College.

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