Groups question aquaculture “roadmap”

ELLSWORTH — A group of scientists, students and organizations earlier this spring wrote a letter to the director of the Maine Sea Grant program expressing concern about a recently released 10-year plan for the state’s growing aquaculture industry.

The Maine Aquaculture Roadmap 2022-2032 was produced by the Maine Aquaculture Hub, a network founded by five organizations: Maine Sea Grant, the Maine Aquaculture Association, the Maine Aquaculture Innovation Center, Coastal Enterprises Inc. and the University of Maine Aquaculture Research Institute. Prior to the report’s release, the writers held a series of focus groups to gather input from interested parties, including aquaculturists, fishermen, government agencies, academics, environmental groups, nonprofits and others.

But critics, in a letter to Gayle Zydlewski, director of Maine Sea Grant, voiced concerns regarding “the framing; timing; representativeness of participants; diversity, equity, and inclusion; and limited focus on education.”

“We believe aquaculture has an important role to play in Maine’s economy and recognize its potential to attract and retain young people in our state, produce healthy food, and strengthen the resilience of the marine sector,” according to the letter. “Yet efforts to advance aquaculture, such as the Maine Aquaculture Roadmap, must not supersede meaningful public dialogue, silence divergent viewpoints, or systematically privilege the most powerful voices.”

Co-signers of the letter included several academics from the University of Maine; Paul Anderson of the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries; Jon Lewis, former director of Maine’s Aquaculture Division; Dwayne Shaw of the Downeast Salmon Federation and others. They requested that the roadmap be clarified to state that it is an economic development plan.

“The report reads as the de facto vision for the future of aquaculture in Maine for the next decade and closes the door on a broader dialogue,” according to the letter. “We have further concerns that the process leading up to the roadmap, as well as that which was used during the creation of the roadmap, resulted in a narrow perspective that does not represent the diversity of stakeholders who share our coastal waters, let alone those within the aquaculture sector.”

A 2017 report by the Aquaculture Research Institute at the University of Maine found that the economic impact of aquaculture tripled between 2007 and 2014, from $50 million to $137 million.

“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 previously.

He said the roadmap document draws on “expertise, insight and ideas from the wide array of stakeholders.”

The document is “one more tool to help collectively prepare for a sustainable future,” according to Zydlewski.

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