Island Institute

Lobsterman Keith Miller and crew harvest kelp in St. George, Maine

Business Development Group | Community Relations | Education | Ocean Acidification Research | Market Development | Resources

With Maine’s fisheries facing an uncertain future, marine-related economic diversification can help support Maine’s island and remote coastal working communities. Shellfish and seaweed aquaculture can provide fishermen and their families a way to continue making a living from the water for years to come. Sharing information about aquaculture and helping people is an important part of our work. The Island Institute is working to:

  • Help members of island and coastal fishing communities succeed in the aquaculture industry
  • Use aquaculture to help students learn about the marine environment and develop critical thinking skills  
  • Explore aquaculture's potential to improve water quality and protect shells against the adverse impacts of ocean acidification  

Aquaculture Business Development Program

Launched in 2016, the Island Institute’s Aquaculture Business Development (ABD) program provides comprehensive support to men and women from rural fishing communities to effectively launch and grow new shellfish or seaweed aquaculture businesses.

  • In its first four years, the program has had 100 participants with a total of 34 starting businesses within the aquaculture industry.
  • We have directly helped support a total of 141 individuals interested in aquaculture.
  • The Island Institute estimates that these businesses have contributed over $4.1 million to Maine’s economy.
Learn about some of our past ABD participants here:


Benefits of the program

The ABD program is free and gives participants the opportunity to:

  • Learn the nuts and bolts of starting an oyster, mussel, or seaweed farm
  • Receive assistance in navigating the state leasing process and community relations
  • Visit established aquaculture operations in Maine and elsewhere through New England
  • Connect with existing aquaculturists and industry experts
  • Develop a business plan, marketing strategy, and farm management plan
  • Work with scientists who can assist in the selection of a suitable growing strategy and location
  • Gain access to financing and continued business support for the first three years of operation

While we accept a new cohort of ABD participants each year, we continue to work with them for their first 2-3 years in operation as they grow their product and their businesses.


We are excited to report that, from 2006-2019, program participants have included 31 women and 69 men, of which 76 are directly involved in or own fishing businesses. The remaining are entrepreneurs or teachers, with the majority coming from a marine-related business.

2016–2019 Cohorts by Region:

45 from Midcoast
35 from Downeast
20 from Casco Bay area


Contact Peter Piconi at or Sam Belknap at with any questions about the ABD program.

Aquaculture Community Relations

For a new grower, developing a good relationship with the surrounding community can be both important and challenging. There are many real and perceived conflicts that can arise with individuals including riparian/waterfront landowners, fishermen and recreational users, environmental advocates, and even other aquaculturists.

There are actions that both new and experienced growers can take to minimize conflict and ease concerns, and many examples of aquaculturists who have developed great relationships with their surrounding communities. In addition to shortening the leasing process, these relationships can often result in partnerships and assistance from the community that are invaluable for both parties. 

For more information, view our factsheet:
Importance of Community Relations for Maine Aquaculture
To see further examples of good community relations visit:
What Works Solutions Library: Aquaculture Community Relations

Aquaculture Education

Diversifying the local economy is a critical need in many island and coastal communities —and the people who will power that future economy are in island and coastal classrooms today. 
Working in collaboration with schools and other organizations, we help provide relevant professional development and create curriculum components for teachers. We partner with Hurricane Island Center for Science and Leadership and Herring Gut Learning Center to provide aquaculture education workshops for K-12 teachers from all across the coast of Maine. So far we have reached 15 schools, 32 teachers and 200 students. The most recent workshop was a 2-day experience in September 2016 held on Hurricane Island for middle and high school teachers.

September 2016 workshop for teachers on Hurricane Island

Together with local teachers, aquaculture experts and with financial support from SEANET, we have produced two valuable aquaculture education resources:

  • The Kelp ME ASAP curriculum guide for grades K-5 is the result of an after school program on Long Island, Maine in the Spring of 2016. The guide was created by Island Fellow Erin Love and Long Island teacher Marci Train and covers a wide range of kelp-related lessons and activities that are suitable for both formal classroom and informal afterschool settings. Download the curriculum guide here: Kelp ME ASAP Guide
  • The Climate of Change Educator’s Guide was developed by the Island Institute's Rebecca Clark-Uchenna with support from Education Specialist Yvonne Thomas and other experts. It is for grades 6-12 and is based on the Island Institute’s fourth Climate of Change film about aquaculture. The film is accessible here and the accompanying Educator's Guide can be downloaded here: Climate of Change Part IV Educators Guide 

Ocean Acidification Research

The potential impact of ocean acidification (OA) along Maine’s coast is largely unknown. With a heavy economic reliance on organisms that build shells, any changes to water chemistry can present a significant threat to the future viability of our coastal communities. For the last few years, we have been working to make sure that they are better prepared for OA. Dr. Susie Arnold, the Island Institute’s marine scientist, served on the Maine legislature’s Commission to Study the Effects of Coastal and Ocean Acidification.  

Collecting data about ocean chemistry

In 2015, the Commission issued a report identifying critical knowledge gaps in our understanding of our vulnerability, as well as ways in which we can respond, including the use of phytoremediation to reduce acidity through kelp farming. Phytoremediation is the process by which kelp takes in CO2, nitrogen, and phosphorus and outputs oxygen, creating a halo effect of remediated water around the kelp farm (Fig. 1 below).  

The size, relative impact, and permanency of the theoretical ‘halo’ of phytoremediated water surrounding a kelp farm is yet to be determined. That potential capacity is the focus of a research project being conducted by Dr. Arnold and Dr. Nichole Price, a marine scientist at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences.  

In January 2016, Dr. Arnold and Dr. Price put sophisticated sensors in waters around a kelp farm off Chebeague Island in Casco Bay. The long-term goals of the proposed work are to measure the size, impact and permanency of OA remediation through kelp farming as a low-cost, low-risk way to enhance water chemistry while contributing to shellfish growth, increasing shellfish yield, decreasing time to market and adding a potential income stream for Maine’s fishermen.

The collected preliminary data within and outside of the Ocean Approved sugar kelp farm using autonomous sensors packages (Fig. 2 below) indicate that the seawater pH, dissolved O2 and carbonate saturation state in the kelp farm are elevated as compared to a location nearby devoid of kelp, suggesting that phytoremediation can ameliorate OA. On average, the seawater pH was 23% higher inside the farm each day and the magnitude of the difference increased as the sugar kelp blades grew in size. What remains to be seen is how far and how deep the phytoremediation impact can extend and if it is sufficient in magnitude to enhance shellfish survival, growth, and yield.    

Future research by Arnold and Price will focus on examining questions such as “How big is a phytoremediation ‘halo’?” “Is the ‘halo’ consistent in size and relative impact throughout a growing season?” “Does the ‘halo’ improve shellfish quality and production?” “Will phytoremediation ensure shellfish production in a warmer and more acidic ocean of the future?” 

Market Development

In addition to our efforts encouraging the growth of aquaculture businesses and therefore increasing supply, we also are working on several initiatives to grow demand for Maine seaweed and shellfish, with the goal of making sure that Maine aquaculturalists can sell their product with ease and for a good price.

Edible Seaweed Product Development Study

While the supply of edible seaweed in Maine is on the rise, Americans still know little about how it can be prepared, its health benefits, and its taste. As a result, there are few commercial processors of edible seaweed in the U.S., and therefore, few outlets for new seaweed growers to sell their product.

To help address this problem, the Island Institute, with the help of culinary consultant Jim Griffin, published a product study in September 2017 that assessed the potential of this growing industry in Maine and developed and assessed ten food products which included Maine seaweed as a key ingredient. The products range from a granola bar to baked beans, with the unifying theme being that each recipe is scalable, appropriate for sale at both foodservice and grocery retail, and are considered delicious by the average American consumer.

We are currently in the process of helping various Maine processors and restaurant-owners take on these products, and we hope that several will be in mass production by the spring of 2018.

Maine Farmed Shellfish Market Analysis

Compared to seaweed, the market for Maine shellfish is relatively developed, questions still exist as to how much more supply Maine farmers can generate before demand is exceeded. 

To answer some of these questions, in 2015, the Gulf of Maine Research Institute commissioned a report exploring expected trends in demand for Maine shellfish (oysters, mussels, and scallops) over the next 15 years, as well as discussing strategies to maximize profit during this time.

Island Institute staff sat on the advisory board for the project, and in October of 2016, final report was released, with encouraging results for Maine aquaculture. See the final report here.  

Additional Resources

Aquaculture and Shared Waters Fact Sheets

Working with partner organizations on the Aquaculture and Shared Waters Project, we produced a  series of fact sheets to help fishermen and coastal community members answer common questions about starting an aquaculture business:  

"A Climate of Change" Film Series

Warming waters, ocean acidification, industry collapse, aquaculture — across New England and the nation, fishermen and scientists are observing notable shifts in the ecosystem and dramatic changes on the water. The four short films in our "A Climate of Change" series show how impacts are felt in Alaska, Florida and here in Maine.

Part four, A Climate of Change: The Future of Aquaculture, returns to Maine to focus on a positive future for the state’s fishing communities through aquaculture and how more and more resource harvesters are seeing farmed shellfish and sea vegetables as a vital way to stay on the water.