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Fishing sector offered chance to move into seaweed, shellfish culture

Applications for a business development programme designed to help commercial fishermen diversify in to the aquaculture sector are now open.

Maine’s Island Institute is accepting applications for its 2020 Aquaculture Business Development (ABD) programme and is looking to support the state’s coastal and island residents who are keen to start mussel, oyster or seaweed aquaculture businesses within the next two years.

The programme is particularly suitable for commercial fishers who are looking to diversify their businesses.

As the institute stated in a press release: “Along with the familiarity of working in a marine environment, lobstering and other commercial fishing trades already have the experience of operating a business. In addition, starting a complementary business can absorb the impacts of potential changes in the lobster industry. Studies indicate that Maine’s growth potential in aquaculture is substantial, highlighting that the Maine oyster industry could triple in size, and the mussel industry could grow six-fold, between 2015 and 2030. In addition, preliminary data from the Maine Department of Marine Resources indicate that farmed seaweed production grew five-fold in 2019.”

Maine has a thriving shellfish growing sector, with operators including Mook Sea Farms (pictured)

“As the market continues to expand, there is tremendous opportunity in Maine’s aquaculture sector,” said Peter Piconi, marine business specialist with the Island Institute. “The ABD program gives participants both the academic and experiential learning tools to succeed in this burgeoning industry and allows fishing communities to diversify their income through seaweed and shellfish farming.”

The programme launched in 2016 and 33 of the 100 individuals who have gone through the programme have started businesses with crops in the water. The Island Institute estimates that these businesses have contributed over $3.5 million to Maine’s economy.

The programme focuses on business planning, prolonged one-on-one support services, and networking to help cohort members get started.

Participants receive:

  • Training on how to grow oysters, mussels, and seaweed.
  • Knowledge of the state leasing process, site selection, and community relations.
  • The opportunity to visit established aquaculture operations throughout New England.
  • Connections to existing aquaculturists and industry experts
  • Assistance in developing a business plan, marketing strategy, and farm management plan.
  • Access to financing and continued business support for the first three years of business operation.
An overview of the programme © Island Institute

“Lobstermen used to look at aquaculture as a ‘not in my backyard’ type of thing or something that wasn’t even a possibility,” said Kyle Rolerson, a recent ABD participant and lobsterman on Wheeler’s Bay. “Now, thanks to the ABD program, the landscape of those conversations has changed and people are much more open to aquaculture as a possibility.”

“I've seen more water in Maine as part of the ABD program than I’ve seen on my own lobstering in the last 30 years. Getting access to people’s farms and businesses and getting their honest answers and opinions on where the industry has been and where it’s going was key,” he added.

This year’s cohort will kick off with group and individual meetings in April, followed by a two- to three-day aquaculture boot camp where participants will receive hands-on training at sea farms in early May. Throughout the summer, members of the cohort will receive one-on-one assistance from Island Institute staff as they start their businesses, and the year will round out with several more in-person meetings in the late fall and winter in order to cover the essential topics listed above.

To be considered for the programme, those interested must submit a short, six-question application by March 13. Applications and further details are available at