The University of Maine's Sea Grant and Cooperative Extension marine
team helps the state's shellfish aquaculture industry
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"Shellfish aquaculture fits with coastal communities. It continues
the tradition of making a viable living from the sea in a way that
can be compatible with other uses, and (it is) sustainable from an
environmental point of view."
— Dana Morse
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In the distant past, when Maine's
waters were warmer than today, oysters thrived all along the coast. Yet
even now with a cooler climate that has restricted oysters to a smaller
area, Maine enjoys a good reputation for the shellfish.
A small cottage industry has grown up to serve consumers who appreciate
the salty, sweet, slightly crunchy raw oysters plucked from the clean,
cold waters of the Damariscotta River.
Seven oyster aquaculture companies now call the Damariscotta home. Many
of their owners received training and developed new growing techniques
as students at The University of Maine. And their influence on Maine's
coastal economy is growing.
The industry produced more than $2 million (dock value) in shellfish for
the market 2001.
Moreover, oyster aquaculture is taking root in other locations up and
down the Maine coast as a result of the state's experimental aquaculture
lease program. Fledgling efforts are under way from Kittery to
Washington County. Ten full-time and 25 part-time oyster aquaculture
businesses are now in the state, according to Mike Hastings of the Maine
Aquaculture Innovation Center.
"Shellfish aquaculture fits with coastal communities," says Dana Morse,
a member of UMaine's Sea Grant and Cooperative Extension marine team.
"It continues the tradition of making a viable living from the sea in a
way that can be compatible with other uses, and (it is) sustainable from
an environmental point of view. This industry also taps a lot of
traditional skills and knowledge on the waterfront."
Based at the Ira C. Darling Marine Center in Walpole, Maine, Morse is
one of six marine Extension team members coastwide. Sponsored by the
Maine Sea Grant College Program and UMaine Cooperative Extension, they
provide technical assistance to industry, coordinate environmental
monitoring efforts, and foster research on fisheries and coastal
ecosystems. Among other tasks, Morse serves the oyster aquaculture
industry by promoting research, answering questions and facilitating
"Wherever possible, we rely on scientifically credible information, and
we almost always act as a bridge between the industry, researchers and
the public, whether the need is technical or otherwise," says Morse.
"For example, we bring researchers and industry together to work on
problems of common interest, such as juvenile oyster disease or on
upweller development. We also transfer information from outside the
region to the local industry members."
Morse's projects include efforts to perfect the design of a device known
as a tidal upweller, which speeds the growth of young oysters. He also
works to understand the causes of juvenile oyster disease, which can
kill up to 90 percent of a farmer's young stock, effectively eliminating
production for that year.
Morse and his colleagues host public meetings to discuss pending
aquaculture lease applications. While oyster aquaculture facilities are
minimally visible in the water, they do occupy areas that traditionally
have been used by the public for boating and other purposes.
Not surprisingly, applications for new oyster leases can stimulate
considerable debate in coastal communities. The meetings inform people
of proposed aquaculture sites and stimulate dialogue.
"Industries we think of as traditional are always in some sort of
change, and shellfish aquaculture, while a newer one than many, is
another step in that change. On the whole, shellfish aquaculture is a
good option for a marine-based livelihood, in a time when those options
are growing fewer," Morse says.
by Nick Houtman
for more stories from this issue of UMaine Today Magazine.