Local Aquaculture Specialist John Brawley Expands Lake Champlain Sea Grant Role

By Shari Halik
June 13, 2023

Dr. John Brawley has stepped into a part-time role as an aquaculture outreach specialist with Lake Champlain Sea Grant. As a shrimp producer in Vermont, John helped to start an education program in 2020 with former Lake Champlain Sea Grant aquaculture specialist, Theo Willis.

John, a former oyster farmer in Massachusetts, has a PhD in marine systems ecology from the University of Maryland and past collaborations with other Sea Grant programs. In his new position, he will provide outreach to Vermont and Lake Champlain basin aquaculture producers, educate the public about sustainable products, and lead an aquaculture association in the basin. He is especially interested in helping producers strategically use grant money to improve their productions. The seven current aquaculture farms in Vermont grow shrimp, trout, salmon, and hydroponic greens.

“Aquaculture is a growing industry in the basin and is forecast to triple in the U.S. by 2030,” said John, who began the first shrimp aquaculture farm in Vermont in 2018. “Compared to other regions, there is still very little aquaculture in Vermont and northern New York, but as it grows and matures, having support for farmers is important.”

John looks to neighboring Massachusetts as a model. There, the state’s Sea Grant programs at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Woods Hole are very involved in the aquaculture industry. Sea Grant staff work with regulators and towns and provide a third-party independent perspective.

"Worldwide, aquaculture continues to gain importance by producing fresh, sustainable protein that enhances local economies," said John. "In Vermont, we have both the resources and consumer demand to add significant value to the agricultural sector. I am excited to be part of a growing group of farmers and entrepreneurs who are working hard to provide locally grown seafood, fish, and produce to Vermonters and beyond."

John will continue to bring his firsthand experiences to the small but growing aquaculture industry in the Lake Champlain basin to help producers start and enhance their aquaculture businesses. John owns Sweet Sound Aquaculture, an indoor shrimp production, located in Charlotte, Vermont at the former Nordic Farm. He grows Pacific white shrimp and sells 100 pounds to market for Vermont consumers each week.

In several large tanks in a 3,800-square-foot former calf barn, John feeds his shrimp a mixture of barley, wheat, soy, and fish meal. He uses a system called biofloc aquaculture in which beneficial nitrifying bacteria feed on shrimp waste to keep the water clean.

“The U.S. consumes around 1.5 billion pounds of shrimp per year—almost twice the amount of salmon,” said John. “Yet, only five percent of shrimp is domestically produced. Aquaculture is a safe, sustainable, and efficient way to grow crustaceans in a land-locked state like Vermont and helps to shift from offshore to inland production to meet demand.”

“We are very excited to welcome John back to our aquaculture and hydroponic programs,” said Jeffrey Schloss, Acting Extension Leader for Lake Champlain Sea Grant. “With his direct connections to producers in Vermont and the region, we look forward to his efforts to assist and expand local efforts, collaborate with regional Sea Grant programs, and contribute to workforce development.”

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