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While researching Kwak'wala, because I think the languages of the Pacific Northwest have this amazing aesthetic I want to mimic in some languages in my world, I came across the fact that the Kwakwak'awakw built clam gardens, which are these artificial very shallow lagoons that are designed to allow clams to grow and multiply in controlled and optimal environment, so they can be harvested more easily and in greater abundance than catching them in the wild.

I thought this was a cool idea and wanted to add it to the cultures of my world, but the part of my world I'm working in is sort of a stand-in for Europe, and this got me wondering why aquaculture didn't seem to ever take off in Europe before the modern age, in the way that it did for the PNW or Polynesia or even East Asia. I mean, the Baltic Sea has molluscs, right? So why didn't e.g. Estonia ever develop clam gardens as far as I know? Is it just pure historical happenstance that it never occurred to them? Or is there some reason it wouldn't have worked? Or would it have just been too unproductive compared to agriculture to be worth it? Basically, when deciding whether or not to include this in a culture in my world, is there some objective measure that would tell me whether a culture would or would not practice aquaculture, or is "because they just do(n't) lol" as good an explanation as any?

On that note, is there any reason you couldn't likewise have mussel gardens or marine snail gardens?

I suppose the spirit of the question also extends to e.g. fish farming and seaweed/kelp farming. It seems like Europe had access to seafood but just didn't bother to extensively farm it for some reason until recently, and I would like to know if there's a particular reason for this beyond just "because they just didn't idk" that I should keep in mind when worldbuilding.

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    $\begingroup$ ??? The Romans grew fish in artificial ponds and oysters in lagoons. And there were artificial fish ponds all over Europe in the Middle Ages. (And before the 19th century Europe had more land than it could cultivate with its population, with far higher return on investment than growing ultra-perishable shellfish underwater.) (As for Estonia, the main reason it did not develop anything before the modern age is that it did not exist. Sure the land existed, and it was inhabited by people, but there was no Estonia, not even as an aspiration, before the middle of the 19th century.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Apr 5, 2023 at 6:15
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    $\begingroup$ A society only cultivates the foods they eat. And diet is a cultural thing. If naturally-sourced food satisfies the demand, there is no up-side to cultivating it. The further away the natural source of a desired food is, the more likely it is to be cultivated. $\endgroup$ Apr 5, 2023 at 12:51
  • $\begingroup$ You're more likely to get aquaculture if it's necessary. This could be produced if your peoples don't have a good source of protein, or if fish/clams/oysters were high-demand items. $\endgroup$ Apr 5, 2023 at 14:15
  • $\begingroup$ It's an interesting question, but isn't WB, and should be asked on History.SE. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Apr 5, 2023 at 18:22
  • $\begingroup$ @RonJohn 100% worldbuilding, not history at all (read the 2nd paragraph) $\endgroup$ Apr 30, 2023 at 2:25

2 Answers 2

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If you have a good amount of cultivable dry land, you wouldn't start putting effort in cultivating the sea. And before giving up on farming, you would try looking around for available places.

In Europe this meant that civilizations would either farm the land they had or started colonies reachable with not too long travels, with the intention of getting more resources. This was done for example by Greeks and Phoenicians.

Polynesia, on the other hand, had very little farmable land in the islands, so looking at the sea was more or less a forced choice.

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  • $\begingroup$ The PNW has cultivatable land, but they chose aquaculture instead. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Apr 5, 2023 at 18:16
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Frame challenge, don't say they didn't practices aquacultivation if you haven't done the research.

Europeans during the middle ages practiced aquaculture. Different from the methods pacific islanders used.. and mostly focused on fresh water aquaculture... But it was still aquaculture.

Europeans gathered wild juvenile mussels and moved them to safe places to mature, sounds pretty similar to a clam garden to me.

Europeans traded all over the world with records from one monastery that date back to 700 A.D and include trading with Asia for fish stock.

King Philip II (16th century) introduced invasive species park, common carp, tench, and the Italian crayfish to the Iberian peninsula when he decided he wanted his fish ponds stocked with those species.

Castles throughout Europe had fish ponds which were managed and stocked with fish (Fresh Fish was highly desired...).

There were eel ponds throughout Europe, often located in mill ponds (though whether this was intentional, or accidental, eels can migrate overland). And some mills paid their taxes in eels.

They passed laws to promote sustainable fishing. Outlawed fishing during spawning seasons, set minimum net hole sizes to prevent the capture of fish below a certain size, outlawed types of fish trapping deemed too destructive to the fish populations. Limited access to beaches depending on the season. Created fish sanctuaries. Created eel sanctuaries. Limited catch sizes. .. The list goes on, and on, and on.

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    $\begingroup$ Also worth mentioning the wide use of weirs to dam off streams and create large fish ponds. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Apr 5, 2023 at 21:53
  • $\begingroup$ I have an aquarium in my house. Is that aquaculture? There has to be a line between keeping a few fish in a pond and commercial aquaculture. $\endgroup$ Apr 6, 2023 at 14:57
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    $\begingroup$ I think commercially rasing fish to eat (which is what some of the ponds were used for) counts as aquaculture. $\endgroup$
    – Questor
    Apr 6, 2023 at 16:28

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