Island Institute

A 2016 ABD participant works on oyster cages.

Join our third Aquaculture Business Development cohort!

Have you ever thought about gaining a new source of income through growing mussels, oysters or seaweed? Now is a great time to launch your small-scale aquaculture business. Through our Aquaculture Business Development (ABD) program, the Island Institute is working to help fishermen and people from fishing communities diversify into shellfish or seaweed aquaculture.

Aquaculture is a natural business expansion for those already working on the water. Starting a complementary business can absorb the impacts of potential changes in the lobster industry, and growing kelp can help absorb some of the effects of climate change. Fishermen and communities with strong fishing cultures are well-suited for establishing shellfish or seaweed aquaculture operations. In addition to their familiarity with working on the water, lobstering and other marine trades already involve operating a business. Fishing communities, who identify with working waterfronts, also see themselves on the front lines of climate change and desire to ensure opportunities for future generations to address declining or aging populations.

"With lobstering the way it is, and the whole world the way it is, you really need a backup plan.  I’ve been in the urchin industry, the shrimping industry, and now we’re going to go into the kelp industry”  – Keith Miller, fishermen and ABD participant in his first year of growing kelp

"I have three boys, and I'll be able to show them that another fishery is possible other than lobstering. Aquaculture will be something really important to the future of Maine's coastal community."  – Jeff Putnam, fisherman and ABD participant; now growing oysters with his family

Economists, scientists and industry experts say that Maine’s growth potential in aquaculture is enormous. The area covered by all of Maine’s current aquaculture leases could fit inside Rockland's harbor, meanwhile the demand for the Maine brand is high. In 2016, the Gulf of Maine Research Institute found that the Maine oyster industry would triple in size, and the mussel industry would grow six-fold, between 2015 and 2030. We anticipate that the ABD program will generate an economic impact of $20 million annually by 2025.

What's Involved?

We are looking to work with Mainers who are highly motivated to start their shellfish or seaweed aquaculture businesses within the next two years. Like starting or expanding any business, it can be challenging to wade through unfamiliar regulations, create a business plan, and understand the complexities of the supply chain.

"One of the biggest benefits for us was going down to Casco Bay and seeing Bangs Island Mussels and Calendar Island Mussels. Both of them have been very helpful in us getting a start in the aquaculture industry."  – Josh Conover, fisherman, boatyard owner, and ABD participant; now owner of Marshall Cove Aquaculture

The value of the ABD program:
  • Learning about mussels, oysters, or seaweed species, and biosecurity
  • Understanding the state leasing process, site selection, and community relations
  • Visiting established aquaculture operations from New England to Canada
  • Getting connected to existing aquaculturists and industry experts
  • Developing a business plan, marketing strategy, and farm management plan
  • Gaining access to financing and continued business support for your first three years of operation

Island Institute

A member of the 2017 ABD cohort discusses water quality on an oyster farm.

ABD cohort members must be prepared to invest significant time and energy into exploring their new business, but our staff will provide guidance and resources along the way. We anticipate individual meetings starting late March, and an in-person group meeting in April to kick off this year's cohort. A two-day trip in early May will get the cohort out exploring sea farms. One-on-one assistance continues through the summer with the potential for smaller-group field trips. A couple more in-person meetings will resume in the late fall and winter in order to cover the essential topics listed above.

Establishing a business takes an individual who really enjoys starting new things and talking to people about new ideas. Having prior knowledge or connections with the aquaculture industry in Maine increases the potential for successfully networking with existing industry partners. Aquaculture requires the ability to learn practical skills and acquire equipment, as well as a desire to learn the science of aquaculture.

"With the support and knowledge from the Island Institute's Aquaculture Business Development Program, we were able to develop a business plan to diversify our existing business of lobstering."  – Jodi Brewer, co-owner of Morning Star Fisheries and ABD participant; now growing kelp

The strength of the ABD program is its focus on business planning, prolonged one-on-one support services, and networking to help ABD cohort members get in the water.

We hope you'll join us and apply here: 2018 ABD application

Applications are being accepted through March 23, 2018.

Island Institute

A participant in last year's ABD program seeds a kelp line.

More information


Contact James Crimp or Stephenie MacLagan with any questions or for more information regarding the Aquaculture Business Development program.

Contributed by

Stephenie MacLagan

Contributed by

James Crimp