ELLSWORTH — It should come as no surprise to anyone who follows Maine’s fisheries that the state’s aquaculture industry is growing in value and number of producers.
The U.S, Department of Agriculture 2018 Census of Aquaculture, released shortly before Christmas, paints a slightly different picture of the industry on a national basis.
According to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service report, in 2018 sales of U.S.-grown aquaculture products totaled $1.5 billion, an increase of 10.5 percent over 2013, the last year for which a comprehensive census was compiled. Though sales were up, the number of producers was down.
In 2018, there were 2,932 aquaculture farms with sales in the United States, down 5 percent from 2013. Five states — Mississippi, Washington, Louisiana, Virginia, and California — accounted for 51 percent of the sales and 37 percent of the farms.
“The 2018 Census of Aquaculture updates important information about the industry that we last produced in 2013,” said NASS Administrator Hubert Hamer. “These valuable data tell the story of U.S. aquaculture, following and expanding on the Census of Agriculture. The information in the report helps trade associations, governments, agribusinesses and others learn about aquaculture and make informed decisions that have a direct impact on the future of the industry.”
As of the end of 2018, Maine had 65 aquaculture farms — finfish, shellfish and seaweed — with sales of some $73.3 million. Five years earlier, there were just 35 farms that produced sales of about $57.3 million.
While the number of farms and total aquaculture sales increased significantly in Maine over the five-year period, the number of farms growing “food fish,” such as salmon, halibut, cod or yellowtail dropped. In 2013, there were 11 food fish farms in the state, primarily Cooke Aquaculture farms growing Atlantic salmon. By 2018, the number of farms had dropped by four. Maine also had two baitfish farms, up from just one in 2013.
The USDA did not report food fish or baitfish sales to avoid disclosing confidential financial information that could be traced to an identifiable grower.
The number of Maine farms growing mollusks — mussels, clams and oysters — grew from 22 in 2013 to 54 in 2018. No sales figures were reported, although there were myriad growers.
According to the Maine Department of Marine Resources, landings of farm-raised oysters in 2018 totaled nearly 12 million pieces, worth some $11.9 million. In 2013, farmed oyster landings were about 4.6 million pieces worth about $3.1 million.
Maine also had a significant, though smaller, blue mussel aquaculture industry, with farmers using both bottom culture and hanging rope culture methods. Again for confidentiality reasons, DMR is not able to break out numbers for each method, but total landings of farmed mussels was about 2.1 million pounds — in the shell — worth about $3.2 million. In 2013, mussel landings were about 1.4 million pounds worth some $1.8 million.
DMR also reported that 16 growers reported landing a total of 53,564 “wet pounds” of marine algae — seaweed — in 2018. In 2015, the first year a cultivated seaweed harvest was reported by DMR, landings were just 14,582 pounds produced by four growers.
The 2018 Census of Aquaculture provides detailed information about production and methods, surface water acres and sources, sales, point of first sale outlets and aquaculture distributed for restoration, conservation, enhancement or recreational purposes.
According to the USDA, in 2018 the average sales per farm nationally were $516,944.
Sales of food fish totaled $716 million, a decrease of 2 percent from 2013.
The sales of mollusks were $441.8 million, an increase of 34 percent from 2013.
Oyster sales, valued at $284.9 million, accounted for 64 percent of mollusk sales in 2018.