Farming the sea
Since the establishment of Maine’s first sea farm in Clark Cove in 1975, the state’s aquaculture industry has grown to 107 companies totaling approximately 113 lease sites and employing approximately 600 people. In 2014, the overall economic impact of Maine aquaculture was $137.6 million, according to a new report by the Aquaculture Research Institute at the University of Maine. For more than four decades, UMaine has conducted research and provided educational outreach related to the farming of aquatic organisms, such as finfish, shellfish or sea vegetables. In 2014, that support took a giant step forward with the creation of Maine’s Sustainable Ecological Aquaculture Network (SEANET).
I believe that aquaculture is one of Maine’s most promising areas for economic development.
When you look at the demand for seafood, things like scallops and oysters, and you couple that with Maine’s enormous coastline and a wide variety of marine environments, it’s a natural fit.
Aquaculture is the idea of raising usually some aquatic-based organism, whether it’s marine or fresh, essentially growing that organism instead of going out and harvesting it with nets, gill nets, long lines, and the typical ways that we do fishery.
Instead, the idea is that if we can control more of the situation, whether it’s the environment or whether it happens to be a culturing technique, that we can enhance the productivity of that particular traditionally wild-harvested species by doing it in culture.
The potential of what we’re doing, I’d like to say, is huge. In fact, I’d like to say, we’ll feed the world. The potential, over time, and it’s going to take time, is that this form of aquaculture will be supplying food locally, regionally, perhaps nationally.
It has the potential for being developed and is being developed on the Maine coast. The potential is not just for food, nutritious food, but also for jobs and businesses.
Our industry is very heavily science-based, it is biotech. Even the more extensive field aspects of it are turning in that direction. It’s very important that we have this scientific expertise to draw on and the capacity to be able to carry out both field research and benchtop research.
That provides the answers and the timelines for businesses to know where money should be invested, where it shouldn’t, where are the opportunities, and where are the hazards that we face?
The buoys that have been deployed are part of a $20 million NSF project called the Sustainable Ecological Aquaculture Network.
What this is is a network of both institutions, like the University of New England, the University of Maine, the University of Maine at Machias, and growers themselves, and the industry to create this new network to create these information streams.
By deploying these buoys, we’ll learn where the valuable nutrients for production are and share that with the public. That will promote better understanding of where the best habitat for aquaculture is in the state.
My own research has to do with how the animals work with the environment. If we can get some nicer facilities at Darling Center where we can tune into environmental variables like temperatures, salinity, food concentration, and we can look at what makes the animals grow better.
Then we can go out in the ocean and find those places with our satellites, with our buoys, and with some of our cruises with our students and researchers.
Then we could say, “Oh, do you realize we can grow a thousand tons of scallops in this bay that we never thought of before? You can match the requirements of the animal with what you have in the environment.” That’s the idea.
When we opened this restaurant, our big focus was on showcasing what we believed to be some of the best oysters in the world. The best oysters are going to be the ones that are grown closest to you. There’s no better place to eat Maine oysters than on the coast of Maine.
I thought it was really, really important for us to really develop strong relationships with the farmers and really showcase Maine oysters. Anything that anybody can do to make aquaculture stronger, more viable is going to be better for us. It’s going to be better for them, better for the coast of Maine, better for the economy.
What we see here at the Darling Marine Center as our mission is to help the industry both with problems that might be impediments toward the growth of that industry or that might stop the growth of that industry, from disease research.
Also being the R&D arm — the research and development arm — for this industry and helping them discover new lines that might be more resistant to diseases, for instance, in the future and also new species.
We’re the first area in the state of Maine to grow scallops, for instance, in a culturing technique. We really see ourselves as answering problems for them and being a source of information to help them make better decisions for the industry.