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10 To Watch: Jules Opton-Himmel

Owner, Walrus & Carpenter Oysters

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Name: Jules Opton-Himmel

Occupation: Owner, Walrus & Carpenter Oysters

Age: 36

Neighborhood: The West Side

Education: BA in Earth and Environmental Science, Wesleyan University; Master of Environmental Management, Yale University

Sugar kelp is the new oyster. Right now, about 99% of Rhode Island’s aquaculture is oysters. Jules Opton-Himmel has made an impact in that area with Walrus and Carpenter Oysters, two ocean farms totaling eight acres, farming 2-3 million shellfish per year, distributed to 45 local restaurants and seafood purveyors across the eastern seaboard. Last year, he harvested the first commercial sugar kelp crop in Rhode Island. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the global market for edible seaweed production is about $5.5 billion and growing at a steady clip; the vast majority of it is currently produced in Asia. Opton-Himmel sees opportunity: this year he plans on harvesting 50,000 pounds of kelp, starting a hatchery to provide seeds to other farms and developing a processed sugar kelp product for retail. This will extend Rhode Island’s aquaculture growing season (oysters in the summer, kelp in the winter), and like oyster farming, actually improve the quality of the water in which it’s grown by reducing excess nitrogen created from human activity. “As of yet the market for domestic seaweed is undeveloped and an economically feasible method of production is largely unproven,” Opton-Himmel explains. “Rhode Island is perfectly positioned to become a leader in this new industry that can create new jobs and economic activity in a way that does not deplete our natural resources or pollute our environment.”

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