Maine Sea Grant brings tourists to the local seafood industry
By Shelby Hartin, Maine Sea Grant
Abigail Carroll, a business consultant who has worked internationally, recently returned to her hometown in Scarborough, Maine. One of her first contracts was developing a business plan for an oyster farm. The aspiring oyster farmers plans didn’t work out, and Carroll became the owner of the farm. She wasn’t a fisherman. She had no background in marine science.
In fact, she had no idea what she was doing.
Her father’s advice? Pull up your bootstraps and get to work.
So she did. She built Nonesuch Oyster Company in Scarborough, which has grown to include 65 acres and hopes to produce 500,000 to 700,000 oysters a year by 2017.
Carroll also has failed. More than once. The engine on her boat has quit. She’s had difficult farming seasons after long winters. She’s considered quitting multiple times, but the community surrounding her has kept her going, pulling her back to shore and asking time and again for one of her tours.
Tours are Carroll’s favorite part of the job. With her farm site on the Scarborough River, she’s an easy visit for those coming down the coast. Each guest receives six freshly shucked oysters with lemons and mignonette while on Carroll’s tour. She enjoys building relationships with the people she brings out on her boat, and a recent promotional effort called the Maine Oyster Trail is trying to bring that relationship to more oyster farms across the state. br>
The Maine Oyster Trail connects visitors with Maine’s oyster industry and farms like Carroll’s. According to Communications Director Catherine Schmitt, inspiration for the Maine Oyster Trail came on a field trip to Matunuck Oyster Farm & Bar during the Northeast Regional Sea Grant Meeting.
“My exploratory blog post generated all this intense interest and enthusiasm. So we decided to make the idea a reality, and we are now working with partners to make the effort official.”
Dana Morse of Maine Sea Grant and University of Maine Cooperative Extension has been working to get oyster farmers like Carroll on board.
“The Maine Oyster Trail will be a great way for Maine to showcase its oyster farms and promote a new type of tourism. Our Oyster Tasting Tour program has allowed us to engage on a personal level with oyster aficionados,” Carroll said.
Other stops along the trail include the Damariscotta River Cruises, owned and operated by Chip Holmes and Olga Oros. Their 1950’s River Tripper can accommodate up to 49 guests. Through their tours, they give visitors access to several oyster farms on the Damariscotta River, where Maine’s oyster industry began with the very first Sea Grant funds awarded to the state, in 1971.
The Maine Oyster Trail is expanding to reach broader audiences trying to connect with Maine’s oyster industry.
“Tourism trends all over North America show that visitors are increasingly interested in authentic experiences that connect them to the people and places they visit,” according to Maine Sea Grant marine extension associate Natalie Springuel, who coordinates the Downeast Fisheries Trail. “They want to meet local people, learn about how they make a living off the land and sea, and taste the fruits of that labor. Tourists increasingly want to feel good about where they spend their money, they want to support businesses that match their values. Touring an oyster farm is exactly the kind of thing today’s tourists are looking for.”
Marine resources industries like fisheries and aquaculture live alongside tourism on the coast of Maine. The two industries stand to gain a great deal by collaborating rather than competing.
For Carroll, the community’s response and support has made starting and operating a small business worth the risk of failure. So every morning she wakes up with a mission, greeted by misty Maine mornings and gentle sunrises over the Scarborough River. Carroll admits that she misses the bustle of city life, but coming home and stumbling into the ownership of an oyster farm has given her a renewed sense of purpose.
“It’s a tiny little farm, but it’s not mine to fail anymore,” she said. Even if it doesn’t work out for Carroll, Nonesuch Oyster Farm belongs to the community that surrounds it.