Downeast aquaculture research gets funding



ELLSWORTH — Maine EPSCoR’s (Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) Sustainable Ecological Aquaculture Network (SEANET) is funding two projects in Washington County aimed at better understanding the effects of environmental change and management policies on soft-shell clams and Atlantic sea scallops.

“The goal of SEANET’s mini-grant program is to respond rapidly to aquaculture R&D needs in the state,” Deborah Bouchard, director of the University of Maine’s Aquaculture Research Institute and SEANET Research Network director, said in a statement.

“These two projects will address the unique needs of the Downeast region in synthesis with the environmental data collected through SEANET’s buoy and sampling system that has been deployed in the region.”

Sustainable aquaculture could present opportunities for economic development and growth in Downeast Maine’s coastal communities.

“As interest in this industry continues to grow, critical research investments must be made to ensure the sector’s long-term sustainability,” Meggan Dwyer, research coordinator for SEANET, said in a statement announcing the grants.

Survival rates for soft-shell seed clams have fallen dramatically in recent years. Several factors may be involved including acidification in Maine’s coastal waters, and the increased presence of invasive predators, such as green crabs, whose population has increased explosively along Maine’s coast.

Researchers at the University of Maine at Machias led by Brian Beal and William Otto have received a $12,000 award from EPSCoR’s 2018 Mini-Grant Program to investigate the effects of acidity levels and predator endangerment on the survival rates of juvenile soft-shell clams.

Beal and Otto will examine the roles that water chemistry and predation have on reduced softshell clam landings. Their findings may help find ways to combat the most critical threats and increase success rates for the commercial production of soft-shell clams.

In a separate project, Brian Preziosi and Timothy Bowden will lead research at UMaine examining hatchery culture methods for Atlantic sea scallops. A $12,000 SEANET Mini-Grant award will support their work to increase annual spat production to improve the stability of this fledgling aquaculture sector.

Despite strong consumer demand for wild scallops, harvesters face declining state and federal management landings quotas. Researchers see this gap as a potential opportunity for Washington County, an area with a longstanding tradition of scallop fishing, with ideal conditions for sea scallop culture.

According to Preziosi, as Maine’s coastal environments continue to change, the development of alternative sources of juvenile scallops for aquaculture farmers will help stabilize and expand annual production of sea scallops and other commercially important shellfish and create job opportunities in the area.

In addition to these research projects, SEANET personnel in Washington County are supporting marine STEM sciences through local education and outreach activities.

By creating sustainable aquaculture infrastructure, expertise and collaborations, SEANET aims to establish a lasting network of researchers whose goal is to inform regulators, investors, aquaculturists and the public on the best available science in sustainable aquaculture.