Helping Maine’s aspiring aquaculturists get started

Peter Piconi
Posted 2019-01-31

Join the Island Institute’s fourth Aquaculture Business Development cohort—Applications open February 1, 2019!

Have you ever wondered what aquaculture was about or what it would be like to have your own farm for mussels, oysters or kelp? Now is a great time to begin your own aquaculture business right here in Maine. Through the Aquaculture Business Development (ABD) program, the Island Institute is working to help fisherman and people from coastal communities diversify into shellfish or seaweed aquaculture.

Why Aquaculture?

Aquaculture is one of fastest growing food production methods in the world. People are eating more seafood per capita than ever before for health and nutritional benefits plus there is a renewed interest in sustainable, locally sourced food. Maine’s waters are already nationally known for producing high quality seafood, and economists, scientists, and industry experts say that Maine’s growth potential in aquaculture is enormous. 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.  

Shellfish or seaweed aquaculture has the ability to create a steady income for you, your family, and your community. Best of all, aquaculture can fit well into your existing career. Now is a great time for fishermen and other motivated individuals from fishing communities to diversify their income with 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.

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.

“I’m so very grateful to have taken the Island Institute’s Aquaculture Program. I have been able to produce a great quality oyster with their help and the help from the team they put together for us. There have been many valuable and knowledgeable people that have been involved with this program. The thought of diversifying is kind of scary because you’ve got to learn an entirely new industry, but the Island Institute has been there for me for every step of the way.” 

~ Krista Tripp, ABD participant and Lobsterwoman

In the last three years, the Island Institute has had 75 individuals go through the ABD program and 20 have started businesses with crops in the water. These businesses have contributed over $3.1 million to Maine’s economy, and by 2020, our goal is to have helped start 60 businesses with an overall impact on Maine’s economy totaling $36 million.

The value of the ABD program

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:

  • 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

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. Additional in-person meetings will resume in the late fall and winter in order to cover the essential topics listed above.

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

– Jason and Josh Joyce, fishermen, ABD participant, and oyster farmers

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.

We hope you’ll join us and apply here: 
2019 Aquaculture Business Development Program Application

DEADLINE EXTENDED—Applications are being accepted through March 20, 2019.