Midcoast program helps Maine’s aspiring aquaculturists get started

Applications for Island Institute’s Aquaculture Business Development program open February 1st.

Posted 2019-01-28

ROCKLAND, ME – Have you ever thought about gaining a new source of income through growing mussels, oysters, or seaweed? The Island Institute is now accepting applications for its 2019 Aquaculture Business Development (ABD) program. Now in its fourth year, the free program helps fishermen and those from fishing communities gain the tools they need to diversify and launch their small-scale aquaculture businesses. The Island Institute is looking to work with coastal and island residents who are highly motivated to start their shellfish or seaweed aquaculture businesses within the next two years. Applications are being accepted through March 14th.

“Maine’s emerging aquaculture industry has a lot of opportunity and growth potential. The ABD program provides both the academic and experiential learning tools to enter that growing arena,” said Peter Piconi, marine business specialist with the Island Institute. “More importantly, fisherman can diversify their income which, in turn, helps island and coastal economies thrive. We are excited to help a new group of individuals gain the tools they need to launch their aquaculture businesses.”

In its first three years, the program has had 75 participants with a total of 20 starting businesses with crops in the water. The Island Institute estimates that these businesses have contributed over $3.1 million to Maine’s economy. By 2020, the program’s goal is to have helped start 60 businesses with an overall impact on Maine’s economy totaling $36 million.

The strength of the Island Institute’s Aquaculture Business Development program is its focus on business planning, prolonged one-on-one support services, and networking to help cohort members get started in the water. Features of the program include: training for growing oysters, mussels, and seaweed; knowledge of the state leasing process and site selection; assistance with developing business and marketing plans; and access to financing and continued business support for the first three years of business operation.

Another benefit of the program is the opportunity for participants to visit established aquaculture businesses and connect with existing aquaculturists and industry experts, allowing them to learn first-hand the ins and outs of running a business like this. According to Jason Joyce, Swans Island lobsterman and ABD participant, this knowledge was incredibly useful in helping him and his cousin Josh make the decision to start their own oyster farm.

“Josh and I are both eighth generation islanders and commercial fishermen with zero experience in aquaculture,” said Joyce. “The ABD program gave us the chance to consider the benefits while also weighing the costs of starting an oyster farm of our own.”

He continued, “Thanks to the program, we took the plunge two years ago and started Swan’s Island Oyster Farm. We’ll be putting our oysters on the market this spring, and we couldn’t have done it without their help. Our heartfelt appreciation to the Island Institute for their continued guidance in this new business venture!”

Aquaculture is a natural business expansion for those already working on the water, due to the familiarity of working in this environment, the experience of operating a business, and its ability to serve as a complementary business to lobstering and other marine trades. Economists, scientists, and industry experts predict that Maine’s growth potential in aquaculture is significant. 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.

This year’s cohort will kick off with all-group and individual meetings in April, followed by a two- to three-day aquaculture boot camp where they will receive hands-on training at sea farms in early May. Throughout the summer, participants will receive one-on-one assistance from Island Institute staff as they start their businesses, and the year will round out with several more in-person meetings in the late fall and winter in order to cover the essential topics listed above.

Applications and additional information are available on the Island Institute website at https://www.islandinstitute.org/aquaculture, or by calling the Institute at (207) 594-9209, ext. 159. For questions regarding the Aquaculture Business Development program, please contact Peter Piconi at ppiconi@islandinstitute.org or Sam Belknap at sbelknap@islandinstitute.org.