Training lobstermen and other commercial fishermen on aquaculture techniques and business.
by Catherine Schmitt, Maine Sea Grant College Program
When people think of a Maine fisherman, most people think of lobster: the American lobster, Homarus americanus, accounted for more than 65% of the value of statewide seafood landings in 2012. Yet in the Northwest Atlantic region there are few opportunities to harvest other wild marine resources, many of which are on the decline.
One seafood industry that is not declining, however, is aquaculture.
Atlantic salmon farming is one of the most valuable seafood industries in Maine. And the state’s clean, cold waters provide ideal conditions for culturing oysters, mussels, clams—even seaweed.
People have been growing shellfish in Maine for more than three decades. The very first “Sea Grant” awarded to the state, in 1971, funded the development of oyster aquaculture at the University of Maine’s marine laboratory on the Damariscotta River. Today, the Damariscotta remains the heart of Maine’s $1.6 million oyster industry, and several new farms have started in the last few years.
“We shouldn’t have such a large gap between fishing and farming,” said Dana Morse, a member of Maine’s Marine Extension Team, a partnership between Maine Sea Grant and University of Maine Cooperative Extension.
Last spring, Morse and fellow extension specialist Sarah Redmond helped train 12 lobstermen in aquaculture techniques and business training as part of the “Aquaculture in Shared Waters” project, which is funded by the National Sea Grant Program. The eleven-week course focused on shellfish and sea vegetable culture, covering topics such as equipment and husbandry, biology and ecology, permitting, business planning, sales and marketing, biosecurity, and site selection. Additional partners include Maine Aquaculture Association, Maine Aquaculture Innovation Center, Coastal Enterprises Inc., and the Island Institute.
Aquaculture offers fishermen a way to keep working on the water and producing seafood. Introducing these opportunities to “traditional” fishermen is a powerful way to apply their expertise to produce high-quality seafood that Maine is known for, while also creating economic benefits for individual fishermen and communities, said Morse.
“There’s at least three from our group doing work to get started, and if you wanted to run a class next spring, I bet there’d be people interested. People have been talking on the radio after your seaweed workshop in August, there’s a bunch of fishermen interested around here,” noted one participant.
All of the students came to appreciate the differences and the similarities between fishing and farming. “While the skills can complement one another, there are also plenty of new angles and considerations for a first-time farmer that don’t necessarily translate to fishing businesses. Finding that sweet spot, where the farming operation can co-exist well with the fishing operation, is what we are looking for,” said Morse.
This “sweet spot” is the focus of the research portion of the project, led by Dr. Teresa Johnson of the University of Maine School of Marine Sciences. Johnson is documenting and analyzing the attitudes, perceptions and knowledge of fishermen as they begin to explore and venture into aquaculture. The project builds on some very successful and innovative earlier programming by the Maine Aquaculture Association and the Maine Aquaculture Training Institute.
“We know that integrating fishing and farming is not always going to be smooth. There will be competing interests and uses, both on the water and in the marketplace, but competition is nothing new to either industry,” said Morse.
It’s just that now, when people think of a “Maine fisherman” or a Maine “sea farmer,” they might be thinking of the same person.