Opportunity helps fishermen, coastal entrepreneurs diversify and grow business opportunities

Posted:  Monday, February 26, 2018 - 11:00am
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ROCKLAND — 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 2018 Aquaculture Business Development program. In its third year, the program helps fishermen and those from fishing communities gain the tools they need to diversify and launch their small-scale aquaculture businesses. The nonprofit 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 23.

Aquaculture is a natural business expansion for those already working on the water. Due to their familiarity with working on the water, lobstering and other marine trades already involve operating a business. In addition, starting a complementary business can absorb the impacts of potential changes in the lobster industry. Economists, scientists and industry experts predict 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.

"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," noted Jeff Putnam, a fishermen and former ABD participant now growing oysters with his family.

Through the Aquaculture Business Development (ABD) Program, participants will gain the following:

- Training on how to grow oysters, mussels, and seaweed
- Knowledge of the state leasing process, site selection, and community relations
- The opportunity to visit established aquaculture operations from New England to Canada
- Connections to existing aquaculturists and industry experts
- Assistance in developing a business plan, marketing strategy, and farm management plan
- Access to financing and continued business support for the first three years of business operation

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

"What makes this program so valuable is the combination of individualized support with group training that teaches participants the key concepts and connects them with a like-minded group of new sea farmers from throughout the coast," said James Crimp, marine business specialist with the Island Institute. "After seeing success in our first two rounds, we're excited to begin our third year of this program and help a new group of individuals gain the tools they need to launch their aquaculture businesses."

In its first two years, the Aquaculture Business Development program has supported a total of 45 individuals, with 15 participants starting new oyster farms, 13 growing seaweed, and two starting a mussel farm. The Island Institute estimates that the farms begun through this program will have an economic impact of over $44 million on Maine's economy by 2025.

Applications and additional information are available on the Island Institute website at http://www.islandinstitute.org/aquaculture, or by calling the Institute at (207) 594-9209. For questions regarding the Aquaculture Business Development program, please contact James Crimp at jcrimp@islandinstitute.org, or Stephenie MacLagan at smaclagan@islandinstitute.org.