In 1973, the Department of Marine Resources began leasing state-owned waters to aquaculture businesses.
Today, Maine is the largest marine aquaculture state in the U.S.
The University of Maine Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research provides resources as well as research to those farming the sea.
A few hundred yards away in Franklin is the National Cold Water Marine Aquaculture Center. This federally-funded facility focuses on farmed North Atlantic salmon.
Joy Hollowell has part two of her special report on this rapidly growing industry.
Producing a superior North Atlantic salmon through selective breeding is the goal of the National Cold Water Marine Aquaculture Center.
“These fish have to be tested every year to prove that, in fact, they are of North American origin,” explain Brian Peterson, research leader and center director.
The franklin facility began in 2003 after Cooke Aquaculture requested help from the federal government to improve its farmed stock.
“With all selective breeding programs, the goal is to have a faster growing fish that eats less feed, that’s more efficient as well as resistant to disease,” says Peterson.
Staff here are farily confident they’ve accomplished at least one of those goals.
“At processing this year, our selectively bred fish were 150% heavier than our control lines,” says Peterson.
“In the last say two to five years, the number of sea farmers in Maine has really exploded,” says Susan Brawley, a University of Maine professor at the School of Marine Sciences.
Her work at the University of Maine Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research focuses on kelp and red sea vegetables.
“Our water is pure and in the fall through spring,” explains Brawley. “it has a lot of nutrients. And that’s one of the things that we think is attractive to having people begin to become sea farmers of sea vegetables. Some of them will be involved in other types of marine harvest, and this gives them a different seasonal crop.”
In addition to research, the center serves as an incubator for aquaculture entrepreneurs.
“We allow new companies that are interested in working with new species to come here and run trials,” says center director Steve Eddy, “to train their crew, to do some small-scale commercial production so they have something to show to potential investors.”
“We have all the infrastructure here to get them started,” adds Melissa Malmstedt, Assistant Hatchery Manager and Education and Outreach Coordinator. “So we can help them with business plans and system designs.”
Sebastian Belle is the executive director of the Maine Aquaculture Association. The non-profit was incorporated back in 1976 and is the oldest state aquaculture association in the United States.
“Part of the public perception about aquaculture is that it has an environmental impact,” says Belle. “And to be very honest about it, when we started farming, we made a bunch of mistakes. We made lots of mistakes.”
Belle says sea farmers have come a long way since those early days.
“People come from all over the world to Maine to see what our farmers are doing and to learn ways to farm that reduce environmental impacts and help diversify the economic base of working waterfront communities.”
According to industry experts, half of all seafood consumed in the world, is a product of aquaculture.
“A lot of fisheries have been over-fished,” says Eddy. “The ocean is changing. And we can’t always count on the wild fishing. We don’t see aquaculture as replacing that, but we do see aquaculture as playing a role in supplementing that and giving these coastal communities something to fall back on.”
According to NOAA, Maine is one of the top five producing states for marine aquaculture.
For more information on the University of Maine Collaborate Center for Aquaculture Research, you can log onto https://umaine.edu/cooperative-aquaculture/
For more information on the National Cold Water Marine Aquaculture Center, you can log onto https://www.ars.usda.gov/northeast-area/orono-me/national-cold-water-marine-aquaculture-center/