ELLSWORTH — As aquaculture and its contribution to the state economy grows, so does the need to support it.
The Maine Aquaculture Association and Maine Sea Grant released the Maine Aquaculture Roadmap, 2022-2032 last week, a 10-year plan developed with feedback from nearly 100 organizations and companies. It outlines four main goals and identifies $15 million in resources needed to strengthen the commercial aquaculture industry and working waterfronts across the state.
“Aquaculture is clearly a priority for Maine, and we needed a forward-looking, research-driven plan to responsibly sustain Maine’s marine farming sector. Now we have one that supports Maine’s farm families and the future of the working waterfront,” said Fiona de Koning, a shellfish farmer and owner of Acadia Aqua Farms in Bar Harbor.
A 2017 economic impact report by the Aquaculture Research Institute at the University of Maine noted that the economic impact of aquaculture tripled between 2007 and 2014, from $50 million to $137 million.
With industrial-size aquaculture projects aimed at salmon farming proposed in Frenchman Bay and approved but
not yet under construction in Bucksport, the local focus on aquaculture and its potential impacts has grown. A 4-acre experimental oyster farm proposed by Hancock resident Joe Porada in Surry’s Morgan Bay drew days of public hearing testimony and a lawsuit in 2013. And now, environmental and related concerns over American Aquafarms’ proposed giant salmon pens in waters close to Acadia National Park has galvanized many residents and town officials into action.
However, with mounting concerns over the future of the local commercial lobster industry as climate change, environmental concerns and regulations over the dwindling number of North Atlantic right whales threaten a traditional way of life, some state agencies — and some lobstermen — have turned to aquaculture ventures as one way to diversify the Maine working waterfront.
“As we deal with climate-driven change to wild-caught fisheries, Maine’s aquaculture industry is crucial to the resilience of our coastal economy,” Maine Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher said.
“There is a great opportunity for continued development in this industry.”
The 10-year roadmap released by the two organizations provides “expertise, insight and ideas from the wide array of stakeholders,” Keliher noted.
“The Roadmap also complements economic development initiatives in the state, giving us one more tool to help collectively prepare for a sustainable future,” Maine Sea Grant Director Gayle Zydlewski noted.
The four goals outlined in the 10-Year Roadmap focus on the licensing and permitting process, education and outreach, promoting the Maine seafood brand and sustainable aquaculture along social, economic and environmental lines. The 23 action items generated by the plan come at a $15 million cost over the next 10 years, the plan estimates.
“Embedded within these goals, yet worth noting individually, are two cross-cutting topics of importance,” the report
states. The first is climate change. The second is that “diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) are paramount to the sustainable future of the aquaculture sector. Including ‘new Mainers’ in aquaculture opportunities and the greater marine industry will be an important component of the state’s future.”
The Maine Aquaculture Association (maineaqua.org) is a nonprofit trade association formed in 1978 representing the state aquaculture industry at state, federal and international levels. Maine Sea Grant (seagrant.umaine.edu) has supported marine science since 1971.