Imagine what Maine could be if our wild-caught fisheries, aquaculture businesses, fishermen, and sea-farmers, were granted opportunities to diversify their businesses and put more seafood on plates in Maine, the US, and across the globe.

Recognized as one of the world’s richest marine ecosystems, the Gulf of Maine covers more than 5,000 miles of coastline, including islands. While Maine’s marine living resources have long been a mainstay of the state’s economy, particularly in rural areas, only about 20 miles are reserved for the working waterfront and just 16 are dedicated to commercial fishing activity. While lobster remains Maine’s predominant and most well-known export, Maine’s marine economy continues to diversify and now includes fishing, lobstering, aquaculture, life sciences, and value-added processing. In addition, critical supply chain elements like shipping and logistics support this economy.

The Island Institute is ready to assist and prepare people for the challenges and uncertainty to come. From a leadership role in the collaborative effort to create a roadmap for building resiliency along Maine’s coast, to our strategies for enhancing marine livelihoods and sustainability through diversification, we continue to support and develop aquaculturists and fishermen, community leaders, and small business owners through the uncertain times ahead and beyond.

Economic Development

With global trade pressures and the impacts of the looming climate crisis on Maine’s most treasured export, the lobster, we need to capture more benefits from this industry. Through diversification of species harvested and markets, we can build more resiliency into Maine’s marine resource economy. Seafood is one of the most sustainably grown and harvested foods for human consumption. Compared to other types of food, it is produced with far less environmental impact, and in some cases even improves environmental quality.

The COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the rapid changes occurring in the marine environment from climate change, add up to unprecedented change but also great opportunities for creating growth resiliency, and sustainability in Maine’s marine resource economy.

Supported by investments in workforce, infrastructure and innovation, Maine’s seafood economy is poised to attract and retain more workers, pump more money and investments into local economies, and preserve the working characteristics of our coastal communities.

Our Partnership with Luke’s Lobster

In the wake of the pandemic, Maine’s fishermen and coastal communities have been challenged in unprecedented ways. With diminished demand for Maine’s seafood placing Maine’s marine economy at risk, the Island Institute and Luke’s Lobster have formed a creative partnership and are leveraging more than $2.5 million in funding and shared financial resources to build new markets for Maine’s premium seafood that will drive economic activity in our coastal communities.

The purpose of this partnership is to build resilience in the seafood supply chain and provide opportunities for Maine’s fishermen and aquaculturists. The project will expand markets and product offerings through Luke’s online platform and will return financial, social, and environmental benefits to Maine’s coastal communities.

Learn more and read the full announcement here.

Economic Diversification

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.

Our four-pronged approach to aquaculture started with practical business development to responsibly grow a nascent industry and bolster Maine’s potential for long-term success through quality education and leadership, research initiatives, and widely sharing the results of these efforts.

From 2016-2020, the Island Institute’s Aquaculture Business Development program provided comprehensive support to men and women from rural fishing communities to effectively launch and grow new shellfish or seaweed aquaculture businesses. During this time, the program attracted 100 participants and supported 141 individuals interested in aquaculture. A total of 34 started businesses within the aquaculture industry, and we estimate that these businesses have contributed over $4.1 million to Maine’s economy.

While there remains robust interest in our aquaculture training program, the uncertain economic circumstances that await all farmers on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic, and health and safety concerns for all involved, have led us to make the difficult decision of not bringing on a fifth cohort in 2020. Instead, we will focus our aquaculture-related work on supporting those businesses we have already helped get in the water. Additionally, our support will include the education, leadership, and workforce development called for through our leadership in the SEAMaine initiative.

Learn more about getting started in shellfish and seaweed aquaculture here.

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.

More than 95% of edible seaweed products found in the U.S. are currently imported, yet Maine waters provide the perfect conditions for growing quality sea vegetables locally. Maine aquaculturists are harvesting a highly nutritious, organic product and are seeing a surge in interest in edible seaweed across the country. This study provides the most up-to-date analysis of Maine’s edible seaweed market conditions and indicates how investments in this sector could enhance Maine’s coastal economy by diversifying marine livelihoods and providing new supply-chain businesses and jobs.

The Island Institute has published a new study that describes the growth potential for Maine’s edible seaweed market over the next fifteen years. The Edible Seaweed Market Analysis report is designed to be a critical resource for anyone associated with the Maine seaweed aquaculture industry. This report documents the size and nature of the business opportunity and identifies the requirements for sustainable growth.

Learn more and download a digital copy of the report here.

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.

Download a copy of the summary report here.

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.