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Future of Maine Aquaculture Looks Bright

BAR HARBOR The aquaculture industry is quickly becoming the industry that the world will look to in filling the need for seafood, according to Nick Brown from the Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research. Brown hopes to keep Maine in the forefront of this emerging industry.

“Aquaculture is growing at a rate of 8.8 percent since the ’70s. Beef production is up 2.8 percent. The total production of aquaculture product is 25 million tons with 70 percent of that coming from China. In 2005, aquaculture seafood was 45 percent of the total seafood consumed,” said Brown at a presentation during part of the Bay Ecology Series at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratories.

The growth of wild seafood stocks is slowing. The rate is estimated at 1.2 percent growth since the 1970s, with the rate being .7 percent in 10 years. Some 80 percent of the seafood in the United States is imported, which puts the country at an approximate $8 billion trade deficit.

“This growing seafood gap is going to be filled in with aquaculture,” Brown said.

The goals of the Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research include improving the aquaculture industry in Maine - to provide economic development for the state.

The center believes raising diversified species such as worms, sea urchins, cod, halibut and salmon will provide more opportunities for success. Developing and integrating sustainable fish farming policies is also the focus of the Center's work. The CCAR also provides business development resources for entrepreneurs involved with aquaculture. Maine Halibut Farms is one of the first businesses to take advantage of the CCAR facilities. It supplied Maine Halibut with 3,000 fish in 2005 and 25,000 in 2006, which they intend to grow to market size.

Maine Halibut Farms is building a prototype system at Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research — scheduled to go into production in the first quarter of 2008 — that will be capable of producing 20 metric tons of halibut. The company will probably be the first program scheduled to move into the center’s aquaculture business park in Corea with a new facility designed to have a production capacity of 200 metric tons a year.

Halibut Advantages

There have been unforeseen advantages to raising halibut in tanks.

“We are finding a market for much smaller fish in the 1 to 2 kilo size (dinner-plate size). With wild stocks you can’t keep a fish that small,” said Brown.

Broodstock development for halibut is done at very few facilities in the world. The species can be quite tricky to catch at the right time.

“If you miss the timing by as little as three hours, you can just throw the eggs away,” said Brown.

A steady supply of fingerlings for stocking is a critical portion of Maine Halibut Farms operations that Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research aims to fill.

Feed development is another area of importance for the center. As halibut are a relatively new species to aquaculture, feed requirements need to be established. The center has successfully developed a feed mixture specifically for halibut and looks to improve the performance of the feeds through future research.

Cod also are being raised at the center. An experimental cod aquaculture project is being proposed at a site just south of Preble Island in conjunction with Great Bay Aquaculture. Alternative feeds are being explored for cod to maximize the amount of food the cod turn into body mass, and to lower costs.

Green sea urchins are another species being raised at Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research. Brown said that estimates place the urchin trade at $40 million a year.

“The urchins that grow here in Maine are some of the most prized in the world,” said Brown. “Having almost lost the industry, we are wondering if aquaculture can play a role either in reseeding or production.”

The center has developed a year-round spawning and species-specific production system and is working with Friendship International, once a major exporter of the urchins from Maine, to create a sustainable supply eventually on a commercial scale.

Sea worm farming provides yet another avenue of research of the center. Seabait Maine LLC is a project that is the closest of all the center’s projects to being operated commercially.

Integrated aquaculture involves raising several different organisms in the same system to the benefit of all species involved. Currently, the CCAR is raising polychaete worms to consume excess solid waste from the cod and halibut aquaculture systems. Other combinations of organisms that potentially can be grown together include several types of seaweeds, mussels and sea urchins grown with fin fish. The combination of systems lowers overall costs and environmental impact.

Source: The Ellsworth American