Women in aquaculture

Female farmers as economic cornerstones of coastal Maine

Women in aquaculture

Female farmers as economic cornerstones of coastal Maine

Aquaculture farmers often bring a diverse skill set to the business of raising aquatic animals — eels, oysters and clams — for food. Following are snapshots of three of those Maine aquaculture leaders:

Sara Rademaker of American Unagi, LLC, is a pioneer in the eel industry of Maine. Rademaker, who began her startup in the untapped glass eel farming market in 2014, has an extensive aquaculture background that began at Auburn University in 2003.

Aquaculture is really challenging. It requires you to know a lot about many different topics. Sara Rademaker

Since earning a bachelor’s degree in fisheries and allied aquaculture in 2007, she’s traveled around the world to assist small business farmers in Uganda, and to farm tilapia at one of the largest aquaculture sites in Ghana.

And, as an AmeriCorps environmental educator at Herring Gut Learning Center in Port Clyde, Maine she’s taught children about aquaponics.

Rademaker has had strong female mentors in her life, including college advisers, employers and aquaculture colleagues. She encourages others considering a career in aquaculture to also find mentors in the field.

“Aquaculture is really challenging. It requires you to know a lot about many different topics; you need to know biology, how to fix a pump, manage staff, and deal with crazy weather disasters that influence organisms,” she says. “It requires a diverse skill set.”

Enter aquaculturist Caitlin Gerber, a regional steward at Maine Coast Heritage Trust in Topsham and a grower at Chebeague Island Oyster Company.

With an undergraduate degree in marine biology from Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia and a master’s in community planning and development from the University of Southern Maine, Gerber initially didn’t plan on farming in water.

“When I was an undergraduate student I thought I would be a research scientist, but I didn’t realize until my last year of school that I wanted to do something more hands-on,” she says.

Gerber says she thoroughly enjoys fieldwork and likes that aquaculture requires innovation and creativity. And it’s an added bonus, she says, that the oysters she cultivates benefit the environment by filtering the water in which they grow.

Lori Howell, who owns Spinney Creek Shellfish in Eliot with her husband, Tom, also has expertise in a number of areas. Howell, an attorney in her first career, handles business responsibilities, interfaces with regulators and works with growers at Spinney Creek Shellfish.

“A college degree is great, but you also need to have practical skills, like how to use a nail gun, a screwdriver and a saw; there are also training courses and adult education classes,” she says.

“I suggest doing a lot of fieldwork in the summer in particular, and don’t presume to know everything or anything. Step forward, volunteer, and soak up everything around you. You need to love what you’re doing. It’s different every day, it isn’t the perfect job, but you just have to do it,” says Howell.

“It’s not a field for the faint of heart.”

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